30 Jun A Priest, Rabbi, Imam and Sheik Went to Law School
I am in Israel this week on a nationwide tour with Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders from Los Angeles to examine in detail the current state of Israeli-Palestinian relations. We have heard from Arab and Jewish members of the Knesset, visited hot spots along the Green Line, toured holy sites together, spoken with journalists who report from both sides of the conflict, and met with leading economists, lawyers, academics, business professionals, educators, humanitarians, and religious leaders. The event is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California. It has been a whirlwind tour through the eye of the Middle East hurricane.
I will report on my impressions of the experience in later posts, but I wanted to flag for our readers one really impressive example of cooperation among religious leaders. There is a young, entrepreneurial law school in Israel known as the Ono Academic College. It’s not as prestigious as the major law schools in Israel, but it has launched a new program that is nothing short of remarkable. Ranan Hartman, Founder of Ono (and son of the famous Rabbi David Hartman) recognized that many of the top religious leaders in the country were routinely providing religious legal judgments and even acting as judges in the top religious courts of the country. Yet they had no formal legal training. So he had the audacious idea of reaching out to top Imams, Rabbis, Sheiks, and Priests in Israel to offer them the opportunity to take classes (at deep discounts) for three years together to earn a law degree. Even more amazing, they agreed. So for the past three years approximately forty Muslims, Christians, Druze and Jews have been studying together every Tuesday to earn their law degree. Now that the inaugural class has just graduated Ono will matriculate a fresh crop of Muslims, Christians, Druze and Jews this coming fall. Hartman hopes to reach the cream of the crop of religious leaders in Israel.
Picture the scene. This morning I was sitting in a bland classroom near Tel Aviv with Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders from Los Angeles as we met with Orthodox (and other) Rabbis, Imams, Druze Sheiks and Catholic priests affectionately discussing their law school experience. These are not young leaders of the future, these are the current religious leadership in Israel, including judges of the Supreme Muslim Council of Israel, the Israeli Rabbinical Courts (Beth Dien), the Druze judicial courts, and Catholic judicial authorities. (For details read this story from the Jerusalem Post or watch this video clip from Israeli national television).
One Catholic priest said that the experience was miraculous in two respects. First, that the religious leaders would choose to attend law school; second that they would grow so close to one another in the process. Not surprisingly, they disagreed about many, many things. As President Ranan Hartman put it today, “I know that my dream may be your nightmare and your dream may be my nightmare, but that doesn’t stop us from learning together and liking one another.” Powerful. I would venture that there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world.