I spend a lot of time at temple these days. Actually, I go to temple every day, at Kol Ami. On Jan. 15 and 16, however, I found myself at the Gilbert Arizona Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On Jan. 15, in my role as vice president of the Greater Phoenix Board of Rabbis, I facilitated a VIP tour of the Gilbert temple for area synagogue clergy and senior lay leadership; 50-plus attended from the Jewish community.
We were personally escorted by an elder of the church from Salt Lake City, the president of the Gilbert temple and the architect himself. We were treated with the utmost respect, and they were proud to show us what they believe to be their holiest place on Earth.
This magnificent temple is more than 85,000 square feet and houses exquisite furnishings from all over the world, including Jerusalem stone. (There are free tours before the temple is consecrated and sealed in March. Check it out!)
On Jan. 16, I represented the Jewish community of Arizona as I toured the facility again, this time with Gov. Jan Brewer and other government officials, including the Arizona Senate president, speaker of the House, various legislators, local government and religious leaders and educators.
In last week’s Torah portion, we read about Moses learning a valuable lesson from his father-in-law, Jethro. Jethro tells Moses to appoint judges who will handle the burden of judging the people from morning until night, taking only the most difficult cases for himself. Jewish sages note that Moses learns this valuable lesson from his non-Israelite father-in-law Jethro, a Midianite.
Our tradition asks the question based on this interaction: “Who is wise?” The answer, “One who learns from ALL people” (Pirkei Avot 4:1).
I believe a common misconception that many religious people hold is thinking that wisdom can only be found in their own tradition. Jews read the writings of other Jews, Christians read the writings of other Christians, Buddhists read the writings of other Buddhists. In fact, sometimes within a faith, people limit their study to those who agree with them. Orthodox Jews and liberal Jews often do not read each other’s teachings; evangelical Christians and liberal Christians feel they have nothing to teach one another. When we limit our reading to our own, we are closing our minds.
My Jewish beliefs are strongly built on the Jewish idea of covenant (humans as partners with God) and Israel (humans wrestling with God). These beliefs have given Jews our passion for struggling with the world and trying to perfect it, for arguing with God when necessary, for an emphasis on action. So what can we learn from other faiths?
From the Mormons I know and have worked with over the years, I have learned about complete faith. It gives them serenity and an acceptance of adversity, which I admire. As a Jew, I am always ready to argue with God. But maybe there is a time simply to say, “I believe in God and I trust in God.”
I believe in Judaism. But I think we can all learn from our Mormon neighbors and many other worldviews. Wisdom is the ability to learn from all humans and points of view. Such open-mindedness can only make our religion and our faith stronger.
Rabbi Jeremy Schneider is the spiritual leader of Temple Kol Ami in Scottsdale and vice president of the Greater Phoenix Board of Rabbis.