The 47th meeting of the Uniting Church in Australia and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry took place at the Uniting Church offices in Sydney on 8 November.
Dialogue members spent time reading and discussing the book of Ecclesiastes, or as it is known in the Jewish tradition, Qohelet.
By sharing different understandings of the same piece of scripture, new insights emerged.
UCA Convenor of the dialogue Rev. Dr Matt Wilson said for Jewish people the book of Qohelet is associated with the festival of Succot during which the entire book is read as part of the service.
However, the Christian lectionary only occasionally refers to Ecclesiastes. The most well-known passage is Ecclesiastes 3, a scripture often used at Christian funerals.
“For a number of the Christian participants it was the first time they had read Ecclesiastes from beginning to end in a single sitting,” said Rev. Dr Wilson.
“The book is famously associated with ‘futility’ or in the KJV translation ‘vanity’. Neither is a perfect translation of the Hebrew. One of our dialogue members, Rabbi David Freedman suggested ‘transient’ may in fact be a more accurate reading as the Hebrew root refers to breath.”
“Life, as found in Ecclesiastes, is neither futile nor vane, but rather transient – life is too short.”
“We were reminded by our Jewish friends that Succot is the last of the three great Spring festivals of the Jewish year – New Year, Yom Kippur and Succot (a harvest festival).”
“Ecclesiastes gives a summation of the human experience. Life is short and often unfair. Even the rich are often unfulfilled and the abundance of riches often brings only a desire for more.”
“Life is transient and we all struggle with that reality. It reminds us that grief is a price paid for love. It situates life in all its joys, struggles and frustrations and we are left with the loving kindness and patient tolerance of God.”
“The story of this emotional journey reminds us to be caring and open to mental health issues as an ordinary and ongoing part of life.”
The dialogue also discussed the review of religious freedom protections in Australia.
Jewish dialogue members highlighted the importance of being able to freely discuss the failings of particular religious doctrines, practices or institutions.
UCA members passed on the statement of sympathy issued by UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer following the Pittsburgh Synagogue shootings.
Jewish members noted a coming report which details the rise of anti-Semitic speech and action in Australia in the past year.
“Each time the dialogue meets we learn more about each other and we continue to build a strong friendship between the Uniting Church and the Jewish community. We hope this sends a strong message to the wider community that the rich diversity of faiths in the Australian community is something to be valued.”