David Rosen (b. 1951)

An educator working with Jewish communities and interfaith groups

According to our faith traditions, killing innocents in the name of God is a desecration of His Holy Name, and defames religion in the world.
—Rabbi David Rosen

The breadth of Rabbi David Rosen’s life and work spans the globe from South to North and from the center of Judaism to the center of Catholicism. He was born in 1951 in England, the son of a prominent rabbi. After an education in England and Jerusalem he went to Israel where he served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a chaplain.

Rosen then went to South Africa where he became Senior Rabbi to the largest Jewish congregation in the country. In that context his interfaith work began. He was the founder and chairman of the Cape Inter-Faith Forum, a council of Jews, Christians and Muslims working on interfaith dialogue and issues in the South African context. From there he was appointed as Chief Rabbi of Ireland, in which capacity he was a co-founder of the Irish Council of Christians and Jews.

He returned to Israel in 1985 to enter academia, eventually becoming Professor of Jewish Studies at the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. From his base in Jerusalem he became a leading figure in interfaith dialogue, taking leadership in many organizations that dealt with interreligious issues. He became the face of Judaism to much of the interfaith movement, chairing the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations and directing the American Jewish Committee’s Department for Interreligious Affairs and Heilbrunn Institute for International Interreligious Understanding. He participated in the World Economic Forum’s C-100 event, a gathering of 100 world leaders seeking to improve relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Rabbi Rosen became the first Israeli citizen and the first Orthodox Rabbi to be made a Knight Commander of the Order of Gregory the Great, a Roman Catholic honor bestowed upon Rabbi Rosen by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. This groundbreaking honor was given to acknowledge the contribution Rabbi Rosen has made to Jewish-Catholic reconciliation. He played a pivotal role in the negotiations between Israel and the Vatican that led to establishing full diplomatic relationships between these two nations so deeply intertwined with religious leadership and their global communities. Earlier, at the invitation of Pope John Paul II, Rabbi Rosen participated in the World Day of Prayer for Peace convened in Assisi, Italy.

In 1988, Rabbis for Human Rights was formed in Israel to be a rabbinic voice of conscience. Rabbi Rosen played a leading role in forming this organization in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets. The organization included Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Renewal rabbis and students. The Rabbis for Human Rights advocated for the causes of the poor, including the rights of Israel’s minorities, Palestinians, Bedouins, Ethiopian Jews, women, and others in need of a voice for their concerns. They specifically engaged in interfaith work, creating dialogue and joint projects with Christian, Muslim, Druze and other Jewish leaders.

In 2002, the Middle East Interfaith Summit was held in Alexandria, Egypt with Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious leaders from the Holy Land. The statement from conference leaders affirmed:

According to our faith traditions, killing innocents in the name of God is a desecration of His Holy Name, and defames religion in the world. The violence in the Holy Land is an evil which must be opposed by all people of good faith. We seek to live together as neighbors respecting the integrity of each other’s historical and religious inheritance.

A similar meeting was held in 2006 at the 8th Assembly of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, for which Rabbi Rosen is the President. Religions for Peace includes people from more than 100 countries and many different religions. Working alongside moderator Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan to tackle issues of violence with religious dimensions, Rabbi Rosen addressed the thorny issue of identity in conflicts.

Every leader is going to find justification for the position of the community he or she is part of since religion seeks to give meaning to who we are, which is bound up with our identities. So when our identities are threatened we seek to defend them.

Out of the pain of conflict, people will cling to their religious identities for a sense of purpose and self-justification, which also can stigmatize the other in the conflict. Rosen spoke about how politicians, as they work on peace-building, usually try to keep away from religion because religion is so intimately tied up with identity. But Rosen called for a deeper constructive partnership between political and religious leaders in finding the ways to peace, especially in the Holy Land. For Rosen, that very religious identity that causes so many problems can also be the key in finding a basis and motivation for building a genuine peace. In those religious identities and teachings are the roots for our dreams of peace, our values of human rights and our standards of justice.