Jewish Attitudes Toward Eastern Religions

Most traditional authorities dismissed Hinduism as idolatry, but in recent years, some Jews have become more tolerant of certain Eastern religions and practices.

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In recent years, interfaith dialogue between Jews and practitioners of Eastern religions has developed, as well.

One of the most famous of these dialogues is described in Roger Kamenetz's The Jew in the Lotus. Kamenetz writes about eight Jewish delegates who traveled to Dharamsala, India to meet with the XIV Dalai Lama in 1990. The Jewish delegates had diverse attitudes toward this dialogue which reflect the diversity of Jewish attitudes toward inter-religious dialogue in general.

For example, Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, an Orthodox rabbi, embraced dialogue with Buddhists, but drew the line at joint prayers and meditation. Greenberg explained: "[The late leader of Modern Orthodoxy] Rabbi [Joseph] Soloveitchik made the distinction: on social justice we have a universal language, but theology is a more intimate language. Liturgy conveys an affirmation that I'm in this system, so I would feel uncomfortable, for instance, in a Buddhist meditation."

Schachter-Shalomi, however, prayed the Jewish evening prayers in a Sikh Temple, asserting that the Sikh guru and he were, "in the same business, struggling to see holy values don't get lost. I see every other practitioner as organically doing in his bailiwick what I am doing in mine. When a non-Jewish person affirms me, I feel strengthened in my work. When I affirm a non-Jewish person, he or she feels strengthened in their work." 

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Rachael Gelfman Schultz

Rachael Gelfman Schultz holds a B.A. in religion from Harvard University, and completed her M.A. in Jewish Civilization at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is a Jewish educator in Karmiel, Israel.