On Independence Day, Yehezkel Landau came to Chautauqua Institution
for the first time to tackle the Week Two lecture theme, ”2012: What’s
at Stake for the Common Good.”
In the 2 p.m. Interfaith Lecture Wednesday in the Hall of Philosophy,
Landau explored the path to, and requirements for, peaceful
understanding and dialogue within Israel and the United States, between
those two nations, and among them and all the world’s nations.
In a speech titled “Truth, Justice, and Peace: Foundations for a
Healthy Society,” Landau elaborated on finding peace and healing,
nationally and internationally based on his own experiences as a Jewish
man with both U.S. and Israeli citizenship. Landau has experienced both
sides of the coin in terms of religious prejudice and preference. In the
U.S., he has been part of a religious minority, while in Israel, he has
experienced life as part of an empowered majority.
Landau is a faculty associate at the Hartford Seminary. He founded
the Open House Center for Jewish-Arab coexistence, located in Ramle,
Israel, and was its co-director until 2003. He has written many books on
Jewish-Arab-Christian relations, including John Paul II in the Holy Land: In His Own Words.
There are many similarities between Israel and the U.S. Both
countries are democratic, multiethnic and multicultural. And right now,
both countries are at war, Landau said. Israel is at war with countries
that are hostile to its status as a state. Since 2001, the U.S. has been
engaged in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In their military operations,
both countries have clearly defined their enemies, Landau said.
“Focusing on external enemies whether in Israel or here, rather than
on common humanity, and rather than looking within with critical
honesty, may be our critical error,” he said.
In his talk, Landau began by focusing on passages from Hebrew works.
In the first chapter of Pirkei Avot, a compilation of teachings by sages
of the Jewish tradition, two sages called Simon provide three basic
tenets for Jews to follow.
“Simon the Righteous, who says on three things the world stands: on
Torah study, sacrificial service or worship, acts of love and kindness,”
A few chapters after Simon the Righteous defined his three
principles, another sage named Simon wrote that the world is sustained
on the principles of justice, truth and peace. A passage in Zecharia
inspired the second Simon’s words. They can be translated to mean
“Truth, justice and peace you shall administer in your gates,” Landau
He said that often, those sets of three tenets are taken separately,
but to practice Judaism holistically, to reach peace and to create
healthy societies, all six must be followed.
“Genuine lasting peace requires inclusive justice, often requiring
compromise between competing visions of absolute justice,” Landau said.
“And achieving that kind of justice requires accommodating opposing
truth claims grounded in subjective narratives.”
Understanding peace, justice and truth, in that order, is a
prescription for peace, he said. He went on to focus on each concept
Peace, Landau said, does not mean there is no conflict. Conflict is always present.
“This is true from the institution of marriage to international relations,” he said.
Peace is built by dealing with conflict and issue areas with
positive, constructive communication. To promote peaceful conversations
and healing in the U.S. and Israel, a framework or mechanism for
peaceful relations must be followed — “a framework for mutual
accommodation of interests and needs in a spirit of trust, equity and
empathy with mutual care or compassion exhibited,” Landau said.
The need to always be correct is a curse of human nature. It is also a
dangerous catalyst for fanaticism and zealotry, Landau said. Too often
we focus on being right, or promoting our own opinion, rather than
searching for compromise and building peace.
“In democratic and pluralistic societies like this one, and as in
Israel, domestic peace requires commitment to safeguard the common good,
a commitment that transcends the self-interest of any group or
community within that society,” Landau said.
The concept of mutual accommodation on needs and interests brought Landau to the second principle of the Hebrew sages: justice.
For most people or groups, the idea of justice is usually discussed
as something owed to them. Loss of something, whether it be a family
member, friend or even land, leaves people with senses of pain and
grief. Those feelings make people feel victimized. That sense of
victimhood usually sparks retaliation, leaving the group that was once
the victimizer, victimized. The cycle is a relentless impediment to
peace, Landau said.
In Deuteronomy, there is another phrase, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,”
that translates to, “Justice, justice you shall pursue,” Landau said.
Rabbinical scholars have often explained the duplicated use of the word
“justice” by saying it means justice should be pursued in a just manner.
Landau believes the phrase calls for a deeper understanding of justice.
“ ‘Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,’ to my ear, my heart, my conscience, my
spirit, is teaching us to pursue a double justice: my own and my
adversary’s,” he said.
The understanding of the word justice implies an inclusive justice.
To achieve an inclusive justice, the ideas and stories of each side must
be accommodated, Landau said. To truly hear and empathize with the
voices of our adversaries means to hear their truth.
Truth means that a person or nation understands his or her own
experience but also understands and acknowledges the validity of their
opponents experience, he said.
“Very few conflicts pit good versus evil or right versus wrong so
starkly or clearly. World War II was a very rare, perhaps exceptional
example,” Landau said.
In our world today, and in our wars, there are no clear heroes or
villains, he said. In our world today, nations and people define their
adversaries as evil to justify violence or actions of war, but neither
side is ever entirely right or wrong.
Since Sept. 11, in the name of national security, the U.S. has been
plagued by an ethical perversion Israel has known for decades, Landau
“The golden rule, which is our common ethical heritage, gets
distorted into ‘Do necessary harm unto others before they get a chance
to do worse unto us’ — justified harm,” Landau said. “To confront
inconvenient or unpleasant truths means looking honestly and critically
at the formative mythologies that sustain our collective identities.”
In Israel, one of the myths is all Palestinian refugees fled Israel
in 1948. The truth is half of the refugees were forcefully expelled. The
need to understand the truth about those we define as our adversaries
is why Landau founded the Open House in Ramle, an organization that
focuses on sharing the truth about the Palestinian authorities.
“We are all co-responsible for this tragedy, and we all have to work
together to heal it,” Landau said. “But extensive propaganda machines,
well oiled by now, operating for decades, tended to blame the other side
and exculpate us.”
For positive peace there must be acknowledgement of harm, apologies
for harm and amends for harm done. That type of work is necessary to
heal the wounds etched throughout the history of Israel and is just as
relevant for the U.S., Landau said.
“For this country, endemic racism, economic and political
discrimination, and entrenched privilege for select groups — all of
these need to be confronted and transformed in the direction of greater
equity and opportunity,” Landau.
The election of President Barack Obama proves the U.S. is taking
steps toward ending prejudice and racism against black people. But the
U.S. also needs to make amends for another crime against humanity: the
treatment of Native Americans by our forefathers, Landau said.
He said that year-round, regardless of election cycles, the citizens
of the U.S. and the world must have truthful, honest, empathetic
conversations about issues of race, gender, economic inequality, ways of
loving each other or sexual orientation. They should challenge
prejudice, xenophobia, Islamophobia. The most important thing Americans
must learn is to resist the lure of defining their views based on one
political party ideology.
“Truth is not the monopoly of any one group or position. Each faction
in our diverse society is like a color adding something to the rainbow
making up America and contributes to beauty of our social fabric,”
Yehezkel Landau is a Faculty Associate in Interfaith Relations at
Hartford Seminary, where he serves as Director of the Building Abrahamic
Partnerships interfaith training program for Jews, Christians, and
Muslims, and focuses on Jewish spirituality, Hebrew Bible, interfaith
dialogue, and religion and peacemaking. Prior to coming to Hartford,
Professor Landau was a Visiting Professor at Connecticut College and a
Visiting Scholar in Religious Studies at Drew University. In Israel he
served as a Lecturer on Judaism and Interfaith Relations at Christian
institutions at Tantur Ecumenical Institute, St. George's College,
Sisters of Sion International Program at Ecce Homo, the Swedish
Theological Institute, and Nes Ammim Village. From 1980-1982 he served
as Program Coordinator of Israel Interfaith Association in Jerusalem;
from 1982-1991 as Executive Director of Oz veShalom-Netivot Shalom
religious peace movement in Israel; and from 1991-2003 as Co-Founder and
Co-Director of Open House Center for Jewish-Arab Coexistence in Ramle,
Israel. He has also been a Visiting Professor and Seminar Leader at:
Tufts University, Bard College, Maryknoll Institute for Justice and
Peace, and Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry.
Dr. Landau received his Doctor of Ministry (D. Min.) from Hartford
Seminary, his Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.) from Harvard
Divinity School, and his Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) from Harvard
University. Dr. Landau has written extensively on "Healing the Holy
Land" and "Interreligious Peace-building in Israel/Palestine."