NEWSLETTER No. 63 – November 2005


Christian & Jewish


Editorial ( Previous Newsletter )

Annual General Meeting and Conference set for April 2, 2006

International Council's annual meeting and conference: Chicago 2005

ICCJ website serving Jewish Christian dialogue:

CCJ event commemorating the 1938 Aboriginal protest

Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks: The Voice of Judaism in the Conversation of Mankind

Sr. Dr. Marianne Dacy: Religion in Australian public life

Religious ceremonies involving more than one faith tradition

ICCI Publications now available

Uniting Minister points to the children

Around the World

DVD “I am Joseph your brother”


The NSW Council of Christians and Jews cordially invites you to attend the 2005 commemoration service of KRISTALLNACHT the Night of Broken Glass, the horrendous event in November 1938 which saw the burning of Germany’s Synagogues, the looting of Jewish shops and the ruthless transportation of thousands of Jews to the Concentration Camps — many never to return . . .


This year’s Service will be conducted by Fr. Joseph Sobb SJ and Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen in the distinguished presence of Greek Orhodox Archbishop of Australia, His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos. Guest Speaker: Rev. Bill Crewes

Annual General Meeting and Conference set for April 2, 2006

The Australian Council of Christians and Jews 2005 Annual General Meeting and Conference will be held on April 2, 2006 at the Sydney Jewish Museum commencing at 12 noon.

While the actual business component of the annual general meeting is not expected to take more than the first half hour of the program, the remainder of the day's agenda promises to be a challenging one in more ways than one.

The afternoon program will commence at 1 pm with a tour of the Jewish Museum, conducted by one of its authoritative guides, followed by the main topic theme of the conference ? “”Dialogue: where is it leading us?”which will be professionally moderated. This open forum will provide an opportunity for conference attendees to air their views and project their forward plans.

A brief intermission for afternoon tea will precede the remainder of the day's program which will be taken up by a series of panel sessions. These will involve leading editors in a discussion on the role of the media in the interfaith world, followed by a panel of eminent theologians discussing today's issues which the different denominations are confronting. The final session will be made up of past presidents of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies discussing their experiences in interfaith relations and providing insights into the way in which communities need to be confronted.

Three faith choral concert

The afternoon program is planned to conclude at 6 pm. At 8.00 pm it is hoped to present a three-faith choral concert by the choirs from three denominations.

Early bird registrations can already be made (Please fill in the registration form in your browser, print and mail it). This will be particularly valuable for interstate delegates who wish to have overnight accommodation arranged for them. Full program information will be detailed in early 2006.




Concert tickets @ $25. All other events are free and open to all Tickets will be mailed in due course. Cheques made payable to Australian Council of Christians and Jews Inc. 4 Devine Street, Erskineville, NSW 2043

BILLETS: Please indicate if a billet in a private home is required. Please indicate preferences as to location/dietary/kosher, etc. See Form

International Council's annual meeting and conference: Chicago 2005

The International Council of Christians and Jews annual conference was held in Chicago last month with the Australian Council represented by its Hon. Secretary, Sr. Dr. Marianne Dacy. A full report on the meetings and outcomes of the conference will be covered in the next issue of SCENE.

Mary Boys receives major award

Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, Professor Dr. Mary Boys received the annual Sir Sigmund Sternberg Award on the opening evening's program of the “”Healing the World ? Working together: Religion in Global Society”conference held jointly by the American Jewish Committee and the Bernardin Center for Theology and Ministry also held in Chicago prior to the ICCJ conference. Professor Dr. Boys was in Australia last month during which she fulfilled a number of ecumenical engagements, including a Workshop for Religion Teachers in Sydney and major addresses in Melbourne. Prof. Boys (pictured) came to Australia under the auspices of the Sisters of Sion.
Full coverage on her Australian visit will appear in the next issue of SCENE.

ICCJ website serving Jewish Christian dialogue

The website of the International Council of Christians and Jews, Jewish-Christian Relations, to which Australia is connected, was founded in late 1994 by Fritz Voll of Calgary (now Toronto), Canada. He was joined shortly afterwards by friends who assisted in the translation of articles into Spanish, Portugese and Russian. He did translations from German to English and vice versa.

A large number of clergy, scholars and people involved in the dialogue contributed articles for posting in the first six years, during which Mr. Voll financed the site entirely on his own. In 2000 he gave the site to the ICCJ while continuing to serve as webmaster. He is also the founder and webmaster of this, the CCJ Australian website. has come to be regarded as the premier site in the world dealing with Jewish Christian relations. It currently contains more than 2500 items, including 595 articles, 211 statements and 217 biographical sketches of authors and leaders in the field as well as numerous news reports, study resources and bibliographies. An average of four new items posted each month are in English while one new item or more in each of the 5 other languages which the site serves. During the first half of this year, the site has received 426,910 hits, including over 3,000 from Australia.

Prospective contributors of articles, reviews or reports are asked to contact the respective language editor or Dr. Franklin Sherman, Managing editor (for email addresses please log on to, then click on “”About us”then “”Contact””)


It would seem the season of conferences is upon us. The recently concluded International Council annual meeting and conference, attended by over 300 delegates from the US, South America, Canada, several  European countries,  Australia and New Zealand brought together a virtual global overview of the problems facing the interfaith world today. On the immediate horizon closer to home is the second annual general meeting and conference by the Australian Council of Christians and Jews, with the horizon providing the possibility of an international conference in Australia in July 2007.

These meetings require an enormous amount of effort in the organisational run up and in the administrative overview of the programs. More often than not undertaken by volunteers, they represent a degree of dedication and professionalism rarely seen outside the commercial world.

While the 2006 Australian conference has had to be confined to a single day (the 2004 event took place over a long weekend, not this time available to organisers) it nevertheless promises to be packed with interest-challenging topics with the participation of leading members of the various communities and interest groups. The Sydney organisers will work very hard to facilitate as many interstate delegates as possible, with strenuous effort being made to enable some airfares to be subsidised and overnight stays arranged.

Under the circumstances, it is to be hoped that as many members of the various Councils around Australia will make the effort to attend the one day conference. An invitation is also being extended to the New Zealand Council to be represented and it is hoped that for the first time, the two Councils can combine and co-operate in such an initiative.

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CCJ event commemorating the 1938 Aboriginal protest against the German treatment of Jews, held at the Bunjilaka Centre, Melbourne

Solidarity and empowerment

Solidarity and empowerment were two key themes in a presentation by Dr Wayne Atkinson to more than 130 Jews, Christians and Kooris gathered at the Museum of Victoria in Carlton in late July. The event honoured the initiative of William Cooper of the Yorta Yorta Nation, who in December 1938 sought in vain to petition the German consul in Melbourne about the unjust treatment of Jews by the Nazis. In this way the CCJ (Vic) marked the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.The mission was set up by a Wesleyan missioner, Daniel Matthews

In his introduction, outgoing chair of the CCJ Program Committee, Rev Dr Paul Tonson acknowledged the traditional owners of the land and affirmed that, regardless of our culture, we are but trustees of all our resources for the sake of those who come after us. He thanked the Museum and Bunjilaka Centre director, Caroline Martin, for providing the venue without charge.

Tonson referred to the discovery via the web of the crucial influences upon Cooper of both the Christian and Jewish traditions. These facts are recounted in Thinking Black: William Cooper and the Australian Aborigines' League, by Bain Attwood and Andrew Markus (Aboriginal Studies Press, 2005), who tell how before 1870 Cooper’s mother and some of his brothers and sisters settled at the Maloga Mission near Echuca, a Victorian town on the Murray River.

Converted to Christianity

The mission was set up by a Wesleyan missioner, Daniel Matthews, a private citizen who had responded to the degradation of Aboriginal people by white settlers.

Cooper soon joined his family and in August 1874 Matthews noted in his diary: The boy, Billy Cooper, shows great aptitude for learning. After an absence of some years, Cooper returned to Maloga around 1884 and converted to Christianity.

As one might expect, Matthews attempted to ’civilise’ the aborigines in the mission in ways that denigrated their culture and later alienated him from them, declining to allow the young men to hold a corroboree as he considered it was retrogressive to the education of the young people. However, it was Matthews who directed Cooper to the Jewish scriptures, to find in the Book of Exodus a strong foundation for the emancipation of his people.

The CCJ is most grateful for the attendance of several members of the Yorta Yorta Nation, including young staff members of the Bunjilaka Centre where the event took place. Many of them were descendants of William Cooper. Guest of honour, Alf Turner from Wangaratta spoke of his boyhood experience of his grandfather, William Cooper, and introduced Wayne Atkinson, his cousin.

Atkinson, a teacher of Melbourne University, and member of the Council of the Yorta Yorta Nation, provided a well illustrated account of the efforts of Cooper and his associates striving for their rights in Australia around the sesquicentennial of European settlement. He outlined how William Cooper was born in his peoples' country on the junction of the Murray and Goulburn rivers in 1861. He was the fifth of eight children of a union between a white labourer, James Cooper, and a Yorta Yorta woman, Kitty Lewis. In later years Cooper and his third wife lived in Melbourne until 1940 when, his health failing, they decided to return to Cooper's own country. He died shortly afterwards and was buried at Cumeroogunga.

Around 1932, Cooper founded and led the Australian Aborigines League, and thus became a significant historical figure in Australia. His distinctive political program presented a considerable challenge to governments in the past and continues to resonate strongly today..

The tide of history

Responding to the presentation, Mark Leibler spoke on behalf of the Jewish community and as a key player in the Yorta Yorta land claim, represented by Arnold Bloch Leibler. He illustrated the narrow interpretation on which the Yorta Yorta appeal had been struck out by the High Court in 2002. Ironically, the Yorta Yorta adaptation to European settlement, including the mission influence, became an obstacle to their demonstrating a continuous observance of their traditional way of life on the Yorta Yorta lands since 1788! Justice Olney declared that the Yorta Yorta native title had been, by 1881, ’washed away by the tide of history’.

Leibler affirmed that ’William Cooper is a national icon, the quintessential Australian story of refusing to buckle and of speaking out in defence of the truth, “”upon which a reconciled national identity can be forged””. He added: “”William Cooper’s legacy goes far beyond his people. It extends to the people I belong to: Australian Jews and their brethren worldwide””.

Rev Dr Paul Tonson

The Voice of Judaism in the Conversation of Mankind

Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks is Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations in the Commonwealth, He is the author of The Dignity of Difference (2002).

A significant portion of my work is involved with other faiths. I cherish the relationships I have made. Successive archbishops of Canterbury and Cardinal Archbishops of Westminster have become close personal friends. The same is true of leaders of the Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and other religious communities in Britain and throughout the Commonwealth.

These relationships have been important. They have allowed us, as religious leaders, to stand visibly together at times of tension and trial, of which there have been many in recent years.

The great faiths constitute different languages of perception, imagination and sensibility. They are only partially translatable into one another. This is a matter of degree. The various Latin- based languages have something in common, as do the Semitic tongues, ancient and modem. The same applies to religions. The Abrahamic monotheisms are more closely related to one another than they are to the mysticisms of the East.

Nonetheless, each is distinct. Each has its own resonances and nuances of meaning. There is, after Babel and before the end of days, no universal meta-language. This means that there will be some things we will never fully understand because they can be said only in a language which is not our own. If this applies to individual concepts, how much more so to the absolute and infinite Other, who can by definition only be partially compassed by any language at all.

There are at the same time things that are profoundly held in common. They are in no small measure constitutive of the human situation. We are vulnerable, therefore we need protection. Human life, in particular, is sacrosanct. Each person is unique, therefore irreplaceable, therefore deserving of safety, and indeed dignity. Our interests and desires conflict; therefore we need justice and the rule of law.

Thus it is that, men possessing quite different, even opposite metaphysical or religious outlooks, can converge, not by virtue of any identity of doctrine, but by virtue of an analogical similitude in practical principles, toward the same practical conclusions, and can share in the same practical secular faith, provided that they similarly revere, perhaps for quite diverse reasons, truth and intelligence, human dignity, freedom, brotherly love, and the absolute value of moral good.

We must therefore maintain a sharp and clear distinction between the human and temporal creed which lies at the root of common life and which is but a set of practical conclusions or of practical points of convergence – on the one hand; and on the other, the theoretical justifications, the conceptions of the world and of life, the philosophical or religious creeds which found, or claim to found, these practical conclusions in reason. (Man and the State, 111)

Another way of approaching it is to be found within Judaism itself. According to Maimonides, mitzvoth bein adorn la-Makom (commands between man and God) require a blessing. Those between persons (bein adorn le-chavero) do not. Following a suggestion of Rabbi Yitzhak Reines (he put it somewhat differently, but the point is the same), the reason for the distinction is that for commands between the person and God, the essential element is the intentional act (peulah). That intention must be made explicit in the form of a blessing, which constitutes a mental dedication of the act as one of service to God. As for commands between persons, what is essential is not the intentional act but its effect (niphal); thus no declaration of intent is necessary. Joining together to ameliorate the human condition is the meta-mitzvah “”between man and man”and thus is unaffected by the specific religious reasons that lead us to acts of compassion and generosity, or the several narratives of which they are a part.

No faith needs to convert the world to prove its credentials

What I tried to show in my book, The Dignity of Difference, is that there is a delicate balance to be struck between our commonalities and our differences. Put simply: if we had nothing in common, we could not communicate. If we had everything in common, there would be nothing to say.

I prefer the word “”conversation”to the term “”dialogue.”Dialogue carries with it echoes of the great works of Plato, in which Socrates' interlocutor is ultimately shown not to understand what he has previously thought he understood. That is not a Jewish view of dialogue, but I do not have the space here to say why and how.

This I know: that the word emunah, definitive of Jewish faith, means loyalty: God's loyalty to humanity and His covenantal people, and our loyalty to Him. God does not retract His word; He does not abrogate His covenant. That proposition is at the very core of prophetic consciousness, arid the fact that the Catholic Church has acknowledged this truth must be a matter for profound thanksgiving, not only on the part of Jews, but by everyone who cares for the life of the spirit and the future of the human race.

The only thing that in the long run secures admiration for a way of life and a way of seeing the world is to act lovingly to others, unconditionally, No faith needs to convert the world to prove its credentials seeking nothing in return.

Nor does a faith need to speak in universal terms to communicate universally. Quite to the contrary: our uniqueness is our universality. Shortly after the events of 9/11 I received the following e-mail from a stranger:

I am an American and a Christian and I work in San Jose, California. The events of September 11th traumatized me, as they did many around the world. The thought of death is scary but I was more frightened at the reailsation of abused, hungry, lonely and ill people, in every country, that I have forgotten. I am sorry I did that.

In the scary, sleepless nights that followed, I reflected on my life's purpose – how well I knew it as a child – and how I could recapture and live it. I knew I could only achieve that if I devoted myself once more to God and live the way he would want me to live. I prayed often but was apprehensive about going to church. I thought of you and your lectures and turned to Faith in the Future for help.

I found strength and understanding in what I read, especially that God has faith in us. This was a new concept to me. It made me take responsibility for my faith and it filled me with joy to think of faith as reciprocal.

I also understood the call to remember. Since I've read that, I have spent much time remembering my life and society and also the lives of others and their societies. I've remembered why I've made certain decisions in my life, like studying political sociology at university, and why. “”Why”was to understand the Holocaust so that it never happened again. I made peace initiatives my career because of it, yet as my life got more comfortable, my passions lessened. Only through remembering have I come to realize that my skills and my time are needed to accomplish the goal I set out to achieve.

Finally, I took on board the importance of loving the stranger once again. I used to do that naturally, but I don't anymore. Now, I've reached out to many. I've started with my husband, family and colleagues and I'm now doing it again with the stranger (although there is much to be done).

So, why did I write to you? Well, forgive me for sounding melodramatic, but if I died that night, I would have died knowing my Lord again and remembering him. That is a great gift you've given. You reached out to the stranger, and that stranger was me.

Should I, a Jew, give thanks for having helped a Christian woman rediscover her faith? Should a Christian thank God for the opportunity of making a Jew a better, more believing Jew? Those are questions I long ago decided to leave to the world to come. In the meanwhile God has given us much to do, not least to learn to live graciously and generously together in a world that grows smaller every year.

I prefer the word “”conversation”to the term “”dialogue.””

Religion in Australian public life

A presentation to an ICCJ conference (July 2005) workshop by Sr. Dr. Marianne Dacy

A longstanding Australian assumption, particularly since the mid-1960's is that people in public life are entitled to the privacy of whatever religious views they might hold.

When a Prime Minister lends his support, and moves federal money, to schools whose teachers are required to believe in the literal truth of every part of the Bible (including, in some cases, creationism rather than evolution) and that all non-Christians are condemned to eternal damnation, voters can reasonably expect to know which particular aspects of that agenda he endorses.

Australian Prime Minister, John Howard and his senior ministers lecture church leaders about keeping out of politics and sticking to 'spiritual' matters (whatever those may be). Mainline churches have been silenced, for example, through accepting constraining government welfare contracts.

Australia's Christian Right: be alert (and alarmed)

Family First represents no serious incursion into Australian politics, as Graham Willett points out (New Matilda, 22 December and 27 October 2004); but the Christian Right should still concern us.

Religiously-committed politicians have always been in all parties. Liberals long assumed a quiet, establishment Anglicanism, or perhaps diligent, small-business-oriented Presbyterianism. The difference now is the kind of religion being embraced.

Both Hillsong and Christian City Church (the latter with on-site business school) promote a blessed-are-the-rich 'prosperity gospel' in which flashy cars and property empires become signs of God's blessing. They emphasise personal holiness rather than social justice, and individual acts of charity over state welfare. Such theology is a neat fit for a government that stresses market capitalism and privatised economics over social welfare and collective responsibility for one another.

Australia Now

Religion in Australia did not start off under the best conditions. Although church attendance was compulsory, the convicts lived in open immorality and religion was subject of ridicule. The first church built on Australian soil was even burnt by church members. This aggressive attitude towards the church can be explained by the fact that the clergy was considered to be part of the government and thus opposing the convicts. Only when free settlers arrived, the situation improved. However, for many settlers life in the bush was not easy. The harsh conditions of the outback produced both the famous Australian sense of mateship, and lax religious observance, for the next church often was days away. In 1833, exclusive Anglican establishment ended, and from the 1850s on, a decline in church attendance was recorded .

While in the 1950s church-going was “”a big thing for people, getting dressed up on Sundays””), a shift to secular optimism occurred in the 1960s – humans seemed to be able to solve the problems of the world on their own. In the same decade, the Catholic Church was severely shaken by the Second Vatican Council, the church's attempt to come to terms with modernity, introducing a number of changes concerning dogma as well as religious practice. 140ff). Many Catholics had the impression that their religion had changed over night and felt confusion and despair .The 1970s brought a number of social and political innovations, triggered by the 1968 student revolts, but they also saw the collapse of secular optimism From the 1980s on, cultural diversity characterized Australian society and today there is a wide range of religious affiliations and practices.

Overall, during the last 200 years two major aspects of religion in Australian society can be observed: on the one hand, there exists a constancy of devotion and religious practice on the other hand, there never was a Golden Age of religion and Australians never liked talking about religious matters.

In Australia, there seems to exist a special spirit: according to Veronica Brady, it destroys religious habits, is sceptical and utilitarian, and values the present hour more than any visionary future. Australians lack a trust in institutions like the government, school, courts and the church. They prefer egalitarianism to hierarchies – which is not reflected in many forms of Christianity. Brady claims that in this country, a certain kind of anti-intellectualism creates suspicion of thinking beyond pragmatism – the fact that there are no faculties of theology at Australian public universities illustrates this attitude.

Rather than an intellectual challenge, religion is seen as some form of harmless recreation. Churches are empty, the numbers of candidates for the priesthood decrease, and the strong social role religion once had seems to be lost. A decline in religious orientation can also be observed on the individual level, along with a weakening of belief and a lessening of religious practice. The primary unit in society is no longer the family, but the individual (and religion has become a totally private matter. The people I talked to supported this notion very much.

Does this mean that religion and spirituality are vanishing from Australian society? Is secularisation an “”all pervasive, unidirectional, irresistible force””?

Atheism has also become another acceptable choice for many Australians. While the decision of leaving church and declaring unbelief was a major decision in life only a few years ago, often affecting the relationship to one's family, nowadays religion has become absolutely optional.

Christianity clearly does not dominate Australian society any longer.

Aboriginal Religion

A key aspect of Australian aboriginal belief is the Dreaming. At the heart of this is the belief in powerful beings who arose out of the land, created or gave birth to people, plant life and animal life, and connected particular groups of people with particular regions and languages. The Dreaming beings continue to control the natural world, but their willingness to release the powers of fertility depends upon people continuing to perform certain rituals. People are believed to possess spirits which originate from the dreaming. As children grow up they undergo a variety of rites of passage which initiate them into adulthood.


Aborigines first arrived in Australia about 40,000 years ago at a time when there was a land bridge between Asia and Australia. Overtime much of the continen