- At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land
Yossi Klein Halevi’s At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden is a most extraordinary book on interfaith dialogue between members of the three Abrahamic religious traditions. Halevi, a Brooklyn-born traditional Jew and the son of a Holocaust survivor, has lived and worked in Israel as a journalist since 1982. In this very moving spiritual journey, he recounts his meetings with a number of remarkable Christian and Muslim men and women. First we are introduced to a Sudanese Sufi (mystic) from Khartoum who lives in Mecca and comes to Jerusalem for the sole purpose of entering into dialogue with Jews. He is convinced that it is the will of God that Jews and Muslims live together in peace and even learn to love one another. [End Page 128]
Next we meet Sheykh Ibrahim from the West Bank village of Karawa, another Sufi who loves Jews and who, after having a vision of Moses, feels that his mission in life is to make peace between Muslims and Jews. Sheykh Ibrahim is a pluralist who believes that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam “are all the same before God” (p. 67) just as “Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad are all the same. None is greater than the other” (p. 67).
What is most heartening to see is the love that develops between Sheykh Ibrahim and Menachem Froman, a settler rabbi of Tekoah. Rabbi Froman believes that it is religious people who will ultimately make peace among the people of the Holy Land. The love between the Sufi sheykh and the settler rabbi is truly astonishing and can give one hope even today that peace is possible.
Not all the Muslims that the author meets are as open to Jews and Judaism as is Sheykh Ibrahim. The most dangerous and difficult meetings take place in Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp, where Halevi had earlier served as a reservist soldier. Here he meets a Sufi sheykh who constantly reminds him that there is no salvation without Muhammad: “Until you accept the Prophet, you will never reach God. Muhammad . . . is the medium for all religions, not just Muslims” (p. 285). Yet after a few meetings with Halevi and other Jews who respect and honor Muslims, the sheykh prays for them. Halevi is truly astonished by these meetings. He writes: “I was overwhelmed. A sheykh in Nuseirat was praying for me, protecting me” (p. 310).
This book helps us to understand that although doctrines divide Jews and Muslims, faith in God unites them. It becomes clear that Jews and Muslims need not agree on doctrines. What is critical is to respect each others’ sincerity and faith commitment.
Halevi’s meetings with Christian monks and nuns are equally fascinating and, perhaps because of the unique relationship between Jews and Christians, are even more difficult. From the time that Halevi was born, he learned from his father that Christianity was the enemy. However, the Christians that Halevi encounters love Jews and Judaism. Their aim is not to convert Jews, but to bring Judaism to Christians. As a Jew who has some knowledge of how Jews throughout the ages viewed Jesus, I find the following statement by Halevi very surprising. In response to the question “How do you see Jesus?” Halevi says,
I feel love for Jesus. . . . Obviously, I don’t love Jesus the way you do. For me, Jesus isn’t the world redeemer, but he did bring a measure of redemption into the world by drawing so many souls to God. Maybe there is no single world redeemer. Maybe God will send each religion the messiah it needs and is waiting for. Sometimes I think that the Mahdi will come to the Muslims, the Buddha Maitreya will come to the Buddhists, the Jewish redeemer will come to us, and Jesus will return to you.(p. 209)