Bringing Together Two Religions

The Yeshiva University Office of the Provost and the American Jewish Committee (AJC), a longstanding pioneer in interreligious relations, convened a meeting of American Muslim and Modern Orthodox Jewish leaders on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, for conversations on the theme of “Tradition and Modernity: Religious Identity and Civic Engagement in the United States.”

The 12-member Muslim delegation was led by Imam Mohamed Magid, executive imam of the ADAMS Center, a mosque community based in Sterling, Virginia, with four branches serving over 25,000 Muslims in the Washington, D.C. area. (ADAMS stands for All Dulles Area Muslim Society.) Other members of the delegation included imams and university chaplains from Chicago, Detroit, Long Island, New Jersey and New York.

Welcoming the Muslim delegation to the University, Dr. Ari Berman, President of Yeshiva University, said: “One of the core values of Yeshiva University is the role faith can and should play in contributing positively to the broader society. Our conversation with Imam Magid and his fellow Islamic American leaders on the opportunities our respective traditions can and should play in the betterment of mankind is inspiring for all involved, and we look forward to building a brighter future together.”

(l-r): Dr. Ari Berman and Imam Mohamed Magid

The delegation met with faculty, students, rabbinic leadership and top administration officials to discuss the ways in which Jewish and Muslim communities navigate traditional and modern values to build spiritually resilient, intellectually open and civically minded religious identities.

They toured the Beit Midrash at the Jacob and Dreizel Glueck Center for Jewish Study and met with the roshei yeshiva [professors of Talmud] and faculty of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, who described the rich religious culture of both the undergraduate programs and the rabbinical school. Several members of the Muslim delegation observed that the method of studying Talmud is very similar to the setting where they study the Quran and Islamic law.

Finally, the delegation met with the Dr. Selma Botman, provost and vice president for academic affairs, as well as Dr. Karen Bacon, the Mordecai D. Katz and Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Undergraduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Noam Wasserman, dean of the Sy Syms School of Business; Dr. Rona Novick, dean of the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration; and Dr. David Berger, dean of the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies. They also met with faculty members of the Jewish studies programs.

“These meetings took courage on both sides, but there is really no replacement for firsthand encounters,” said Dr. Ari Gordon, U.S. Director of Muslim-Jewish Relations at AJC, who received his BA from YU in 2005. “American Muslim communities are very engaged in interfaith activities, but exposure to the Orthodox Jewish community is still rare. Likewise, many Orthodox Jews only know Islam through the lenses of Jewish history or the news.”

Group shot of the Muslim and Jewish leaders