"We must be pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace," His Eminence Kurt Cardinal Koch told the attendees at a private lunch inaugurating the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue (MCID) at JTS on October 31. Chancellor Arnold M. Eisen welcomed a host of luminaries who attended the event celebrating a new chapter in JTS's decades-long history of leadership in interreligious dialogue and its deepening religious and scholarly ties with major Catholic and pontifical institutions, saying, "This is a gathering we have in the name of God, that brings us together from our different religious traditions to celebrate the work we do and the commitments we share," and noted that such relations "have been a hallmark of JTS since its founding."
Cardinal Koch was visiting from the Vatican, where he is the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the organization that includes the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. "God does not dwell in violence, but only in peace," he said while speaking eloquently of the vital need for leaders of all religious traditions to stand together in opposing all those who would use religion as a pretext for violence. Cardinal Koch's visit to JTS and the Rare Book Room of The Library was the first stop on his first visit to New York City since taking up presidency of the council in 2010, when he was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI. During the luncheon, Chancellor Eisen presented Cardinal Koch with a facsimile of one of The Library's treasures, a 1751 presentation document from the Jewish community of Rome to Pope Benedict XIV thanking him for his assistance to them when the Tiber River flooded.
Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies and director of both the MCID and the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies said, "JTS has a long history of relations with the Catholic Church—relations that we consider vital for our religious well-being and for advancing the welfare of humanity across the globe. This is something that Jews and Catholics agree upon, yet nevertheless must continually work toward. The needs of our communities are legion and we can best help God's creatures when we do so side by side. In that spirit, we welcome Cardinal Koch as a friend in our house, which like his, is a house of God for all people."
"Seeds of friendship must be nurtured to help ensure ongoing good relations between synagogue and church," said New York philanthropist Howard Milstein of the cooperation that the day's event acknowledged, and "we are especially proud to have our family's name associated with JTS's interreligious-dialogue activities." The establishment of the MCID was funded with a $2 million gift from Mr. Milstein and the Paul Milstein family. Their long history of engagement with JTS includes Irma Milstein's service as chair of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education and on the JTS Board of Trustees; this gift from her family marks the second generation of relationship between the Milsteins and JTS.
In the Rare Book Room, Cardinal Koch viewed priceless historic treasures of the Jewish people preserved in The Library's collections, including a 12th-century document signed by Maimonides. It is an open letter, pleading for funds to ransom Jewish captives taken prisoner in 1168 in Bilbays, Egypt, by the Crusader king, Amalric of Jerusalem, in his attack on that town. Chancellor Eisen noted with pride and optimism the history unfolding at first hand, the contrast between the 12th century and the 21st in these two different eras of the relationship between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church.
Among the guests whom JTS welcomed were His Eminence Edward Cardinal Egan; Rev. Dr. Katherine Henderson (Auburn Seminary); Rev. Dr. Serene Jones (Union Theological Seminary); Angelica Berrie (Russell Berrie Foundation);Rev. Chloe Breyer (Interfaith Center of New York);Prof. Lawrence Schiffman (Yeshiva University, International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations);Rabbi Richard Marker (IJCIC); Dr. John S. Ruskay (UJA-Federation of New York, former vice chancellor of JTS); and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld (Rabbinical Assembly).
JTS's interreligious activities take place locally, in its classrooms on campus, at soup kitchens, and in many public and private events, as well as on the world stage, in a history going back to 1938. Rabbi Visotzky is actively engaged in Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue in capitals such as Washington DC; Warsaw; Rome; Cairo; Doha (where he was in the first group of Jews invited by Qatar's emir); and Madrid (where he was in the first group of Jews invited by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia). At the Center for Pastoral Education, JTS trains and certifies seminarians of every faith in Clinical Pastoral Education and offers additional, accredited pastoral training to working clergy in its part-time multifaith CPE program. JTS began an academic consortium with Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 2010.