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8 March 2009

Religious studies expert Neusner has hope for future of religious differences

TATIANA COHEN // HURRICANE STAFF

TATIANA COHEN // HURRICANE STAFF

Jacob Neusner, a man with 900 books to show for his long career of transforming religious studies, gave the University of Miami’s eighth-annual Jack Chester Memorial Lecture at 8 p.m. on Thursday.

“Yesterday was my wife’s birthday and I don’t want that to be forgotten on this occasion,” said Neusner, a rabbi, service professor of history and theology of Judaism and a senior fellow at the Institute of Advanced Theology at Bard College, before beginning his lecture on what he calls the “religious trialogue” among the religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

The lecture, presented by the Miller Center, the Department of Religious Studies and The Dr. M. Lee Pearce Chair in Middle East Peace Studies, was held in the Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies auditorium. The event honored the late Jack Chester, a Holocaust survivor and co-founder of Miami Beach’s Holocaust Memorial.  The Jack Chester Foundation has donated to the Miller Center for the past eight years.

“Those who knew him look back on him with love and affection,” said Maxine E. Schwartz, the director of Development and Outreach at the Miller Center, of Chester.

This year’s guest speaker is not only a celebrated academic but an old friend of William Green, the senior vice provost, dean of undergraduate education, a professor of religious studies and senior fellow at the Miller Center.

“Jacob Neusner has been my teacher since I was 19 years old,” Green said.  “In the study of Judaism, no one in history can match Jacob Neusner’s work.”

While most audience members were senior residents of the community, several faculty members and students were in attendance.

Aimee Gonzalez, 21, a volunteer in the Miller Center, heard about the event through her internship and brought her friend Madeline Noble, 22, along.

“I’m hoping to gain insights on how to approach new relations among different faiths,” Gonzalez said.

Neusner began by pointing out the dialogue that flourishes between the Christian and Judaic faiths.

“The dialogue between Judaism and Christianity should become a trialogue among Judaism, Christianity and Islam,”  Neusner said.

Because of the common elements of the three monotheistic religions, Neusner attributed their relationship as unique among the religions of the world.

“Trialogue can nurture mutual understanding, and only from mutual understanding can we hope to see mutual respect,” Neusner said.

While Neusner is optimistic that such a trialogue can and will occur, a question from sophomore Robert Murstein elicited an honest response, in Neusner’s opinion, about the possibility of all factions coming together.

“Once trialogue occurs, is there any hope for bringing in the extreme groups to reconcile their differences?” Murstein asked.

Neusner felt that the reality of such a feat seemed hopeless.

Nevertheless, spirits are high and with the help of great academics like Neusner and active citizens, the trialogue is underway.

“The Judeo-Christian dialogue tells me that there is hope for the future reconciliation of Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” Neusner said.

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