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Mazel Tov to Parliament Treasurer, One of “America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis”

Rabbi Michael Balinsky, Treasurer of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions Board of Trustees, was just named one of “America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis” by The Jewish Daily Forward.  Of the honor, Balinsky said a former student had nominated him after inspiring him to become a rabbi. “It was all very touching,” Balinsky shares.

Rabbi Adam J. Rosenbaum describes Balinsky’s influence on his journey toward Rabbinical work:

“As my Hillel rabbi at Northwestern University, Rabbi Balinsky showed me that it was possible to guide young people toward Jewish observance with a sense of tolerance, openness and patience. He was sensitive to the fact that college students endure many ups and downs, and he approached each student with a proper mix of honesty and compassion. Most of all, no matter what I asked him, his answer and tone were both genuine and respectful. He is the reason why I became a rabbi, and if I can one day become half the rabbi that Michael Balinsky is, my community will benefit greatly.”


Do We Have To Pray Together?

Rabbi Michael Balinsky

Rabbi Michael Balinsky

by Rabbi Michael Balinsky
CPWR Trustee

“Do we have to pray together?”

I asked this to Dirk Ficca just before my first board meeting as a new trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. I was relieved with his response: Members of the CPWR do not pray together, in order to recognize the differences that exist between our traditions.

As an Orthodox rabbi, I am part of a tradition that has been wary of inter-religious dialogue. For some, the tension historically has been one of suspicion about the motives of those who sought dialogue—and the lurking question if it may simply be a subterfuge for proselytizing.

Perhaps as significantly, however, has been the concern that in the search for common ground, we might dilute the theological uniqueness of each of our individual communities. That we might ignore the specific ways a community views its sacred traditions and texts.

A recent blog I read, written by a rabbinic colleague, commented on the biblical verse “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) and pointed out the universal nature of this ethic, listing its application in a number of other religious traditions. While the point was well taken, it would probably come as a surprise to most that in the vast majority of Jewish sources, this is not a universal ethic, but one often understood by our sages to apply only within the Jewish community.

Now this is not to say that Jews (and the tradition they follow) only care about fellow Jews and not about others; obviously Jews do. But the imperative to engage others and the world emerges elsewhere in the tradition. For most classical Jewish thinkers, a “neighbor” is the one with whom I share a common religious language, practice, and destiny. What might at first seem common to all is really unique expression of a particularistic community.

My experience with the Parliament has been one in which multiple religious communities can gather together, explore the unique dimensions of each of its members’ traditions, and then seek ways to collaborate on the issues facing all of us as a global community. The Parliament does so by creating the space where open discussion can occur, where a living laboratory of religious people can ask questions and seek greater understanding—and then be called to action to help others.

As a member of the Jewish community, I experience and live my life in a covenental relationship with God that expresses itself through my fulfillment of commandments and God’s bestowal of those commandments for me to fulfill. I certainly seek to share the wisdom I get from my tradition. But I do not claim that these commandments are obligatory to those outside of my community.

It is to the credit of the Parliament that at the end of the day I am given room to seek out my own sacred space—and pray alone or with fellow members of my community, in fulfillment of the religious obligation I understand prayer to be for me as a Jew. But then I am also given room to join with others and work on sustaining the world, far beyond the bounds of my religious community alone.