The global political discourse has become highly polarized in recent years due to ongoing socio-economic disparity, political tensions, and other cultural factors. Religion remains one of the thorniest issues on the table despite many faiths’ emphasis on seeking peace and brotherhood. As world religions seem to take on an outsized role in sparking tensions, however, some are looking at faith as a way to build bridges between rivals and strangers alike.
Rabbi David Rosen, AJC’s Jerusalem based International Director of Interreligious Affairs, has spent his professional life working to create stronger bonds between Judaism and the other major religions of the world. Despite the appearance that most world faiths stand at odds with each other, Rabbi Rosen and his allies across the globe continue to disprove that myth every day. Indeed, Rosen proves that even where state diplomacy and governments can fail to reach agreement and understanding, individuals can still affect change at a global level.
Regardless, Rosen’s work has remained challenging in a field that must overcome centuries of difficult history to find common ground. Today, he works mainly out of the public eye to build inter-faith bridges across the world, a task that includes prominent and important work in some of the most difficult settings imaginable.
Healing the Rift
Rabbi Rosen was born and raised in England into a well-known rabbinic family. He credits his orthodox upbringing as one that preaches openness to the world and the importance of helping those in need. After leaving his post as Chief Rabbi of Ireland, he began a long career of inter-faith dialogue and unofficial diplomacy.
His first experience with a multi-faith and multi-cultural challenge was his education in Jerusalem where he undertook religious studies and received his rabbinic ordination, but also met people from different faith communities. He served in the Israeli Defense Forces first as a tank gunner and then as a chaplain for troops stationed in the West Sinai. Thereafter, Rosen worked in several posts across the world, including in South Africa, where he truly began his inter-faith work. He was Senior Rabbi of the largest Jewish congregation in Sea Point Cape Town, a member of the Cape Beth Din, and a founding member of the Cape Inter-Faith forum – a council comprised of Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
Best known for his pioneering work in the field of Jewish-Catholic relations, Rosen was part of the small team that negotiated the establishment of full relations between the State of Israel and the Vatican and was the first ever Orthodox rabbi to be knighted by the Pope. He received this recognition for his work advancing Christian-Jewish reconciliation.
In addition to his position with AJC, Rosen serves Israel’s Chief Rabbinate as a member of its Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and the Council of the Religious Institutions of the Holy Land. He has made a career of discreetly seeking out opportunities to cross the divide and create new bridges to places governments have been unable to.
The region’s complex geopolitics and the cultural baggage of decades of conflict make his work challenging at times. Much of Rosen’s work has been to create lines of dialogue between Islamic and Jewish leaders, and he has managed to break through and find success. One of Rosen’s major achievements is his inter-faith efforts has been the warming of ties between Israel, and the West, with the Persian Gulf.
Though the region is known more for enmity and conflict with Israel, Rosen has shown a deft touch to find support on both sides for important initiatives. The Rabbi believes the Gulf is a crucial starting point to solve many of the region’s problems, even those not related to religion.
An Inter-Faith Approach to Diplomacy
As a member of a commission of Israel’s highest Jewish authority, Rosen understands the capacity of religious leaders to affect political change. In a 2017 interview he noted that, “in some locations, religious leaders can really influence politics. This could also be true in the Muslim world, where religion is much more intertwined with politics”. As such, he’s worked hard to forge ties with many of the Muslim world’s royal families.
Rosen’s efforts have already paid dividends, as he has developed links to Saudi Arabia, a country traditionally hostile to Israel. He was appointed as a board member for the King Abdullah International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID). As part of that organization, the Rabbi works closely with policymakers and multi-faith groups to advance efforts for peace and conflict resolution.
Rabbi Rosen has also made inroads in the United Arab Emirates, even receiving an invitation to speak at a major inter-faith conference held there. In a sign of his diplomatic touch, Rosen helped organize a small Hanukah candle lighting with both Jewish and Emirati Muslim leaders. Even in Israel, Rosen has taken controversial domestic positions to reach across the cultural divide. He has been a powerful advocate for understanding the Palestinians’ plight, and has been a staunch supporter of a two-state solution as co-founder of Rabbis for Human Rights.
Rosen’s novel and religion-based approach to diplomacy has already helped him break down decades-old barriers. He has traveled and spoken in places like Abu Dhabi and Indonesia where Israeli, and occasionally Jews in generally, are often unwelcome. His work has helped spark dialogue with Muslim religious and political leaders and continues to serve as an important alternative to political approaches.
A Great Labor, Still Unfinished
Today, Rosen is one of the most influential proponents of inter-faith dialogue in the world. He has received accolades and recognition for his work, but his labor remains unfinished. He continues to serve at a variety of posts and organizations that promote inter-faith relations, and he spreads his message across the world. Although there have been great improvements and important steps, the cause of understanding is never quite finished.