Former General Director of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel
I have had the privilege of participating in several conferences organized by the Sant'Egidio community, and there is no question of their significant contribution to awareness and understanding among religions and to the advancement of world peace, and the value of the life, through productive dialogue and individual face-to-face meetings between leaders of the various religions.
The very existence of this important conference, expresses the desire that we all share to bring about a good, exalted and better world, in which the spirit and the value of life has the upper hand – and violence, aggression and force have no part.
Before and beyond the desire for a better world that is free from violence, there is a common denominator that unifies us gathered here today, and that is: the belief in one G-d, and the knowledge that man is not an independent, unrestrained creature, one that is free of limitations and criticism. Not at all.
Lets look into our common roots and see together what essential lessons we derive from them .
We believers know that it is no coincidence that man was born in the form as we know it. Man was created "in the image of G-d" as the Bible describes him immediately at the beginning of the creation of man.
The Mishna and the Gemara in tractate Sanhedrin teach us the truth in this context: "Man was created as a single individual to teach us that anyone who destroys a single life is as though he destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a single life is as though he saved an entire world," since the entire world and its contents were created from Adam, who was a single individual.
"And also for the sake of peace among mankind, so that no person should say to another, 'My father was greater than your father' – since everyone is descended from Adam.
"A single man was created to show the greatness of G-d, for a man stamps many coins from a single mould, and they are all alike, but the King of Kings has stamped every man from the mould of Adam, yet not one of them is like his fellow. Just as their faces differ, so do their opinions – and all are made by the Creator and are his children."
The description of humanity’s origin is designed to make every individual aware of their own worth, as someone created in G-d's image, so that they will preserve and nurture this worth.
These things are of tremendous importance, with implications for man's obligation as a human being to behave in a manner that dignifies the holiness of life, the image, and spirit of G-d within him, and the image and spirit of G-d in his fellow man. Whatever his religion and his opinions, whatever his nationality, man is first and foremost a human being, and must treat his fellow humans accordingly.
Moreover, the Bible also shows us how important the actions of a religious leader can be in the influence he can have on his flock, his generation or even the entire world.
Abraham, the father of modern human civilization, was a man of charity, faith, vision and action, whose tent was always open in all four directions to feed the hungry and needy, regardless of their religion or views. thereby drawing all people closer to their Father in heaven.
This is apparently the reason that the Almighty decided to choose Abraham to lead forth all of humanity.
The value of human life is a major and essential component of Judaism.
Already at the beginning of Genesis, after the flood, G-d makes a covenant with humanity, and the Almighty stresses: "And surely the blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it; Whoever sheds a man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of G-d did He make man".
And of course, in the Ten Commandments – which serve as the foundation that underlies all the monotheistic religions – we have been commanded “Thou shall not murder.”
Accordingly also suicide is absolutely forbidden, because life is a gift we have received from the Almighty, the Creator of the universe, and we have no right to take it from anyone, including ourselves.
The value of human life takes precedence over the fulfillment of the commandments. When there is a conflict between these values, it is human life that must take priority.
Indeed the subject of the sanctity of human life was the topic of the first historic meeting between the representatives of the Chief Rabbinate of the State of Israel, and the Vatican representatives.
Where we take into account our different traditions, and respect each other in our otherness, we are committed to cooperating in fostering common religious values, peace with truth and love.
Accordingly we took two most important resolutions with major historic and moral importance.
1 . The sanctity of human life
Human life is unique and of the highest value in our world. Any attempt to destroy human life must be rejected, and every common effort should be made, in order to promote human rights, solidarity among all human beings, respect for freedom of conscience.
2 . As religious leaders of faith communities, we have an extraordinary responsibility for the education of our communities and particularly the younger generation to respect the holiness of human life. We should not permit any killing in the name of G d who commands, “Thou shall not kill”. Fanaticism and violence are an abuse of religion and they contradict faith in G d, the creator of man, who cares for humankind and created it. No religious leader should condone terrorism anywhere in the world. We should all unite our energies towards the construction of a better world for life, brotherhood, justice, peace and love among all.
So we see that those who favor dialogue and peace should respond positively to any idea, opinion or emotion without arrogance and negating the other. They see the good and positive in every person, nation and ethnic group.
It is important to emphasize that the role of people of faith and especially religious leaders is to be the moral compass and conscience of the world, to emphasize the sublime value of life and awaken mankind with an outcry at any killings, injustice or evil, not to allow political and national leaders to sink into apathy; they must condemn and hunt down terrorists who in the name of G-d or religion murder innocents and undermine the divine order in the world. Only a firm, immediate and unequivocal response will deter these people from carrying out their evil plans.
Darkness and the violence cannot be chased away with sticks, certainly not with knives and guns. A little light repels much darkness! The light of faith and the light of positive action on the part of religious leaders, as a living and dignified personal example, will help chase away the darkness and the evil in our world.
If we remember that “we are all the children of one man”, and if “each person will help his fellow man and strengthen his brother,” then the prophecy of Isaiah will be fulfilled “they shall beat their swords into plowshare, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”.