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Judaism Sikh Delegation meets Rabbi Froman

Discussion in 'Interfaith Dialogues' started by Admin Singh, Mar 18, 2010.

  1. Admin Singh

    Admin Singh
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    The religious peacemaker Eliyahu McLean let me know he was hosting a Sikh tour of the Holy Land, and he invited me to join them throughout their travels. I joined them when they visited Rabbi Froman in Tekoa.

    Sikhism is one of the world's newest religions, and Judaism one of the oldest. One is from the Punjab in India and the other Jerusalem. Both have about twenty million followers each, and both have experienced more persecution than they have the intoxicating glories of political and territorial rule. While the orthodox followers of one like to wear loose white clothes and the orthodox followers of the other like to dress in formal black suits, they both admire long flowing beards very much. It promised to be an interesting afternoon and evening.

    The delegation of Sikhs numbered about twenty. They were all Orthodox: they faithfully followed their tradition of kesh (keeping their hair uncut) and wearing a kara (steel bracelet). One of them assured me they also wore the kangah (wooden comb) and the kirpan (ceremonial dagger), albeit a small version “so as not to cause problems with security.” They take this tradition very seriously, wearing their dagger even when they sleep.

    Upon boarding a small bus to visit Tekoa I found the Sikhs sitting contentedly, their tall trim bodies filling the small seats. All but two were men. Some were already in a trancelike state, an impressive undertaking given the formal prayers had not yet started. Eliyahu later confided they had been up all night travelling and were probably just exhausted.

    The Muslim peacemaker Ibrahim was there sitting at the back of the bus with his usual big smile and traditional Arab garb. Last time Ibrahim and I were on a bus he would take every opportunity to tell the young Israeli soldiers stationed at numerous checkpoints that they looked like one of his ten children and that they were beautiful. The soldiers invariably broke into a big smile themselves when he told them that, their tension spontaneously transformed into genuine joy.

    The settlement of Tekoa is reputed to be the land of Prophet Amos. It is close to the Palestinian village Tekua. Mt. Herod sits silently nearby. Tekoa is in an arid part of the West Bank, beside a series of spectacular valleys heading down to the Dead Sea. What few trees survive without being watered by people are undoubtedly old and hardy.

    We arrived in Tekoa to find an Israeli soldier guarding the entrance. Rabbi Froman is a man of peace but his village still relies on the military for protection.

    Froman joined us on the bus with greetings of “shalom salaam”. He said in Jewish and Islamic traditions, 'shalom' and 'salaam' respectively mean both peace and “the very name of God.” Thus the land of peace is the land of God, according to both faiths.

    We were guided to the edge of the settlement, overlooking the inspiring hills and valleys. Jordanian hills could be seen in the distance. A dry riverbed (known as a wadi) wound its way through the valley floor below.

    Off in the distance an isolated settlement sat, its distinctive red roofs signifying it was Jewish. Although it looked peaceful, the existence of settlements like this are perceived by many Palestinians, Israelis and international observers as one of the three major causes of conflict between Palestinians and Jews, along with Palestinian refugees demanding they be able to return to their villages they left during wars during the 1948 war, and the status of Jerusalem as a capital city claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians.

    Amidst laughter and joy the Sikhs' leader and Froman began to swap religious insights and stories, using the geography of the land and their respective religious culture for guidance. Ibrahim looked on as the Jew and the Sikh conversed.

    But before this inter-religious dialogue Rabbi Froman thanked the Sikhs for their remarkable hospitality at the 2004 World Parliament of Religions in Barcelona, where they fed the 8,000+ participants free meals. Froman said Jews have strict dietary requirements, and confessed with a happy smile that the enormous Sikh tent was the only place in all of Barcelona they could eat. He apologized for not preparing a tent for the Sikhs. The Sikh leader said that on the contrary, the land itself was a big tent, where they shared the love of God. Froman said “yes, yes, the love of God.” The Sikh leader said they had come simply to pray, to love each other and seek peace. He added that we become wise by serving God and serving his people.

    When Froman tried to articulate a spiritual dimension of hospitality, his budding command of English led him to confuse the word with hostility, bringing not only more laughter but an observation from the Sikh that language is tricky and cannot satisfactorily describe God. Froman added that despite his limited command of not only English but also Arabic, he has close friends who are Arab. He said it did not matter because “the language of the heart is less tricky than the language of humans.”

    A young Sikh alone surveyed the land quietly as the sun hovered behind him, a land described by Froman as currently being in a “miserable” state because of the conflict between Jews and Palestinians, one of the few political references shared between them.

    Jewish tradition holds that the wadi that runs from Jerusalem (a point of life) to the Dead Sea (a point of death) is special, for at what Froman referred to as “the end of days” the Dead Sea will receive the water from Jerusalem and become a sea of life instead of death. Froman also outlined a story from Chronicles, near the end of the Hebrew Bible where enemies are defeated not by power and force but by love, humility, and by singing to God and praising him (God was always referred to in the masculine sense by both Froman and the Sikhs). The Sikh leader then recounted a Sikh story which had a similar perspective on the need to praise God.

    These observations reminded me of the complex nature of religious thought. While praising the God present in all people as being higher than one's limited self is a fine thing—or put it in non-religious terms, to live for the good of others and not just yourself is wonderful — to live responsibly does not mean abdicating reason to a vain hope for what Karen Armstrong calls “miraculous intervention”. She points out the danger of “a form of religiosity that reduces spirituality to magic.” Religious stories will always need wise interpreters, it seems.

    After the two religious leaders shared spiritual insights, emphasizing a universal spiritual identity above that of their identities as faith leaders, the Sikhs lead a session of prolonged prayerful singing.

    The Sikh leader and Froman sat side by side, emphasizing their unity and perhaps even their status as leaders in their respective communities.

    (Taken from Damon Lynch Blog, a Jewish PhD Student from America,. Article and Photographs by Damon Lynch. Article written on the 13th March 2007, the Sikh Delegation traveled to Israel in Dec. 2005)
     

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  3. Randip Singh

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    Exactly why the Guru's made Langaar vegetarian. So people of all faiths could partake. Not as some would believe because they wanted us to be vegetarian.

    PS Aren't these the GNNSJ sect people?
     
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  4. spnadmin

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    I think Randip's question is an important question for this reason. The Sikh community that visited with Rabbi Frohman do not represent the broad and diverse spectrum of those 20 to 25 million who are Sikhs.

    For one thing GNNSJ are a "closed" community. By "closed" I do not mean they exclude others -- of course they accept people into their midst. But this acceptance is grounded on the GNNSJ way of practicing Sikhism, in terms of attire and worship which is uniquely GNNSJ.

    More to the point, the author seems to see an analogy between orthodox Jews and orthodox Sikhs. The analogy is faulty. The closest one comes to an "orthodox" Sikh is to be amritdhari. And there the analogy falls apart completely. The honor of being amritdhari is to be part of a sangat where not everyone has taken khanda pahul, nor keeps the kakkars, and nor observes the Sikh Rehat Maryada in its totality. Their duty is to teach Sikhi through their actions and presence. Amritdhari are part and parcel of every Sikh congregation.

    Congregations, or sangats, of orthodox Jews -- there are several different sects of orthodox Jews -- are also "closed." Orthodox Jews worship, live and raise their families in sangat. Often they live in religious communities, like the one described in the article. Reformed and conservative branches of Judaism worship within their own congregations. There is no mingling of orthodox, reformed and conservative congregations. Each has its own synagogues and there are important differences in the way Judaism is practiced. Conversions to Judaism are not even recognized by the state of Israel unless one has been converted by an orthodox rabbi.

    So this is not like Sikhism at all. I do not want to demean the basic message of the article. It tells an intriguing story. But an "orthodox" Sikh has yet to be defined.
     
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