Dialogue with an Orthodox rabbi

Sent On: 
Thu, 2022-05-19
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Engagement in dialogue means being ready to meet with anyone who wants to talk and share his/her views. On May 18 the Arab-West Foundation in the Netherlands had an unusual guest in Orthodox Rabbi Moshe Peleg from Jerusalem. The Rabbi was introduced by my sister to us for his lessons that he describes as “tools for life.” These lessons are given both online and in person.


Many people in the West doubt about the existence of God or His involvement in the life of humanity. In the meeting at the Nebo Church in The Hague the rabbi started his presentation with a quote from Moses ben Maimon or Maimonides who is also referred to as the Rambam (1138-1204). Maimonides was a highly influential medieval Jewish philosopher and physician who lived in Spain and Egypt and whose words are kept in high esteem until today. Maimonides stated that everything that has an order has an origin in someone or a power that has created that order. If the sun would have been closer to the earth it would have been too hot for life and if earth would have been further away it would have been too cold for life. If we would not have had this amount of water on earth or oxygen in the air life also would not have been possible. If gravitation would have been stronger we would have difficulties moving around and if gravitation would have been less we would fly around. Life is extremely complex. “If we would say that ‘this table was the result of the big bang,’ an accidental evolution, no one would believe this, so also the complexity of life cannot be an accident. The creation shows that there is a Creator.” How was the world created? Was there a process of evolution? We don’t know.


Rabbi Moshe Peleg knows that the Tenach or Old Testament is the word of God. Others would call this a belief. The Tenach, Mishna and Talmud are the rabbi’s sources for the “tools for life.” The rabbi is not bothered with questions about the historicity of these books. Yes, they were formed in a particular period, but each word is given by God. Of course, we may not understand each text and can have lengthy debates about the text in search for truth but the text as it has been handed over to us is not to be disputed.


22 years ago the rabbi established Shorashim, “to save youth at risk.” These are mostly girls, between 12 and 18 years old from broken families who have become entangled in alcoholism, drugs, living on the streets, falling in the hand of lover boys and more. Shorashim also has a program for boys and offers a safe home where the rabbi provides “tools for life” through workshops and other forms of education. People, the rabbi says, should not focus on problems they experienced in the past, errors they have made, but focus on the future. Since our world is not an accidental creation, all humans have a purpose. All humans have talents and we all have wishes. We have to find ways to match our talents with our wishes. The rabbi provided several stories of individual people who have come to Shorashim and in all cases this shows his unorthodox approach in helping people with depressions, traumas and other emotional problems. Key factors are the use of humor, laughing, caring and more laughing, the rabbi says who spices his words with numerous jokes. “We do what phycologists cannot do.” Shorashim is not working with psychiatric patients. They are not equipped to help those people.


Rabbi Moshe Peleg came as a young man after the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and is impressed by the friendliness and hospitality of Egyptians. “We are all children of God” he says. “We are all humans, regardless what our religion is, Islam, Christianity or Judaism, and have to help each other to overcome difficulties in life.”


Shorashim is open to anyone who needs help. Muslim and Christian youth would be most welcome but Palestinians do not come to a Jewish centre. The political climate in Israel is sadly so polarized that no Palestinian would seek the support of a Jewish centre or vice versa unless they are truly desperate. The polarization has its origin in political differences and has affect on all layers of society. The rabbi would like to see those differences to be broken but accepts that he has no influence on doing so. But he has an influence on the lives of broken youth and seeks support to reach out to them with various programs.


Participants in this meeting said that also Christian and Muslim clergy reach out to people in need. The rabbi does not deny this, but he is working from his Jewish perspective. It all comes down to the divine command to love your neighbor. Rabbi Moshe Peleg is open to questions at [email protected]. People are welcome to join his online class in English and of course he welcomes support for his centre.


The Hague, May 19, 2022

Cornelis Hulsman