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placeholder November 24, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 20   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop, rabbi stress religions'
commonalities over differences

A weekend of interreligious dialog between Catholics and Jews considered the historical ties and commonalities of the two faiths.

Oakland's Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, the guest of Rabbi Mark Bloom, attended Shabbat, or Sabbath, services at Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland on Nov. 8. The next day, Rabbi Bloom spoke to attendees at the 10 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland. Shabbat (Saturday) services mark the Jewish day of rest and seventh day of the week. After the Mass, there was a reception in the Parish Hall.

Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ

Rabbi Mark Bloom

Bishop Barber noted for the Catholic Church, the day celebrated the feast of the Lateran basilica, the pope's cathedral. While the more widely recognized St. Peter's in Rome was built in the 1540s, St. John Lateran was built in the fourth century, and that "the ritual in the Mass of a dedication of a church has its roots in the dedication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem."

During his homily, Bishop Barber asked people to consider the "Jewish roots of our Catholic faith," and how much Judaism is incorporated into Christianity. Later, Rabbi Bloom concurred noting, "We have many more commonalities than differences," adding each faith "had something to learn from each other."

The common ground was brought home to Bishop Barber when he attended Jewish services the day earlier: "The more you study the Catholic faith and the Jewish faith, the more you realize the debt we Christians owe the Jews, and how many prayers and practices of the Jewish faith are incorporated into Catholic worship."

Bishop Barber offered examples of the connection between the two faiths:

Both are based on Scripture and tradition. "We Catholics read the Hebrew Scriptures every Sunday at Mass, and sing from the Book of Psalms."

The Mass is based on the Last Supper, an event that observed the Jewish Passover. Both have an altar and a tabernacle; both have a priest (rabbi); the Jewish temple has an eternal flame, the Catholic sanctuary signifies the presence of God.

"The rabbi and I wear the same head covering," the bishop said, doffing his skullcap, or zucchetto, which is copied from the Jewish yarmulke.

"Give thanks to the Jewish people who gave us our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ," the bishop concluded.

To show the relationship between the religions, Rabbi Bloom drew on three lessons of faith, "chutzpah" and fruit, reflected from the day's first reading from the book of Ezekiel, Chapter 47, which deals with water.

Ezekiel references underground water tunnels in Jerusalem. Today, some of these are tourist venues, Rabbi Bloom said, and though people know they will traverse them and come out safe, the depth and darkness can be alarming — "fear overcomes you." God is our strength, and faith in God calms us when we are afraid, he said.

"This is the great lesson of the Catholic faith," the rabbi said, "the strength of conviction the Catholic Church has is inspirational. It is the gift the Catholic Church gives to the world."

The second lesson of chutzpah, or audacity, "is the gift the Jewish people bring to the world. The ability to question, to argue," Rabbi Bloom said.

A recent effort by area rabbis to follow tradition and fast for three days to end the drought drew only two participants, Rabbi Bloom said. Even though the fast "couldn't hurt," he said, "a number of them refused to do so based on theological grounds." They asked, "What happens if it does work? . . . We don't want people to think that's how prayer works." That ability to argue, even as Abraham did with God, is a gift of Judaism.

So faith and chutzpah are represented by Catholicism and Judaism, Rabbi Bloom said. Their confluence, as Ezekiel wrote, are the waters that bring abundant, beautiful fruit, providing a new beginning.

Accompanying Bishop Barber to Temple Beth Abraham on Nov. 8 were Revs. Alexander Castillo, Ray Sacca and Joseph Nguyen, and Deacon Thom McGowan.

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