Can descendants of Isaac and Ishmael learn to live together peacefully?

For over a decade I, Rabbi Allen Maller, have been writing articles [70+] about positive Islamic-Jewish connections that have been posted on Muslim websites. For even a longer time Rabbi Ron Kronish, the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI) has been doing such work in Israel. He recently wrote the following article; which I have adapted to Islamic style for future publication on a Muslim web site like islamicity.com.

Rabbi Kronish writes: “Every year Jews worldwide read Genesis chapters 21 and 22 on the first and second days of Rosh Hashanah, in Conservative and Orthodox synagogues around the world. I have always been mindful that on these very special days—our “High Holidays”—we read about [Prophet Ishmael as well as [Prophet] Isaac. Reading about the patriarch of the Arab people is part of our Jewish tradition because these foundational events are essential to our identity as Jews. And Chapter 21—the story of the birth and banishment of Ishmael—establishes our Jewish connection to all of God’s non-Jewish children.

“When God saw that Ishmael was suffering and about to die, the text tells us that the God of the Hebrew Bible hears the voice of all children, including Ishmael, where they are at, in their existential situations, in their suffering and misery, as well as in their joyous and hopeful moments, anywhere in the world. This is a universal God, as we learned earlier in Genesis, whereby every human being is created in the image of God.

“After these events we next hear about [Prophet] Ishmael a few chapters later, when [Prophet] Isaac and [Prophet] Ishmael meet again (Genesis 25:9) at the funeral of their father {Prophet] Abraham. Estranged brothers (or sisters) meeting at the funeral of a parent; ever heard of that in some contemporary families?

“Rabbi Harold Kushner, the editor of the Conservative movements Etz Chaim commentary on the Torah, offers this poignant commentary on this verse: “Isaac and Ishmael are reunited at their father’s funeral, a sign that Ishmael has changed his ways and matured. Although he could not have forgotten how his father treated him; Prophet Ishmael had [long ago] forgiven Abraham for having been a less-than-perfect father.”.

These reconciliations would be why the Torah’s describes Abraham as ‘contented’ in his old age. Can we see this as a [very good] model for family reconciliations [today by] forgiving old hurts? And can it also be a model for the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac, contemporary Arabs and Israeli Jews, to find grounds for forgiveness and reconciliation?

“Can the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael reconcile with each other, and reduce the number of funerals [in the Middle East]? In other words, can Jews and Muslims in the contemporary world coexist with one another? In Israel? In America? Wherever Jews and Muslims are living in the same communities, countries and regions?”

Rabbi Kronish’s answer is Yes. “But it is not that simple. Jews and Muslims have to overcome some deeply ingrained negative stereotypes of each other. Some of this comes from our understanding –or purposeful misunderstanding — of our sacred texts, which can be very problematic and often lead to negative stereotyping.

Some of it comes from our limited understanding of our histories, which are often inaccurate and incomplete. Much of it comes these days from the mainstream media and from social media, which often spread disinformation about each other’s religions and cultures viciously and virally in very destructive ways.”

Rabbi Kronish’s message in his November 26, 2019 Times of Israel blog post is brief and clear: “I believe that it is morally imperative for the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael to find ways to coexist and cooperate for the common good for 3 reasons:

First, both Qur’an and Torah teach us that this is the correct thing to do.
Second, our understanding of history should help us understand why this is essential now. And third, it is in our enlightened self-interest to do so.

It is time to choose reconciliation rather than retribution between Jews and Muslims in this world. The time for enmity is over. It is time to find another path, one of coexistence and cooperation, for the benefit of all concerned.”

I would add that this is not a new idea. A midrash in ‘Kol Hagadot Yisrael’ {Vol. 3 chapter 11] states that in the Days of Prophet Samuel, Jerusalem was divided in two parts; one part inhabited by Jews and the other by Jebusites. When Prophet David became king he wanted to join the two parts together because he knew that since the days of Prophets Adam, Noah and Abraham that hill had been destined to become Zion, the site of the Holy Temple; but their king refused to sell, and built a very high wall around the Jebusite part of the city.

When Prophet David peacefully approached the walls, they lowered themselves on the ground so he could step over them, as one crosses a wide threshold.

From this we learn that while walls often divide people, the miracle of reconciliation can often unite them in a win-win resolution. May this miracle occur again, in our own lifetimes.

Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttlefield, in September 2017.

Allen S. Maller is an ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California. His web site is: www.rabbimaller.com. Rabbi Maller blogs in the Times of Israel. His recent book is,’Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi’s Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism’ (31 articles published by Islamic web sit

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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