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Rabbi on the Ganges  

Rabbi Alan Brill and Students Rabbi Alan Brill, Cooperman/Ross Endowed Chair in Jewish-Christian Studies in honor of Sister Rose Thering, came out with a book, Rabbi on the Ganges: A Jewish-Hindu Encounter published by Lexington Books, this week. The book serves as a critical comparative account between Jewish and Hindu philosophy and religious thought. Through his groundbreaking research, Brill seeks to overcome some of the differences between these religious traditions and further Hindu-Jewish interfaith dialogue.

Brill's work also mirrors his recent academic journey to Indonesia and Singapore this past summer. As part of his ongoing effort to promote interfaith understanding and social cohesion, he recently engaged in several international opportunities to teach and speak.

After undergoing a competitive application process among candidates with scholarly and rabbinical backgrounds, Brill served as a representative for an interreligious initiative on behalf of the American Jewish Committee's (AJC) Asia Pacific Institute. Brill actively works with the AJC. To further bridge the gap between Judaism and Islam, the Committee invited him to teach a graduate course on contemporary approaches to mysticism in Java, an island of Indonesia.

"It was wonderful to be chosen for an interfaith event that will help establish Jewish-Islamic dialogue in Indonesia," said Brill.

The Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies at Gadjah Mada University, the institution that sponsored Brill's visit, functions as a major center for the academic study of religion in Indonesia. The University promotes diversity, tolerance and acceptance, ideas that remain central to Indonesia's political and social fabric.

Rabbi and Seton Hall Student Brill wished to complement the University's mission to cultivate a tolerant, pluralistic society through his lessons about Judaism. While teaching the graduate course, he found the students were particularly interested in understanding how the West differentiates mystical union or the path of intimacy with the divine. He used the parallel between the Jewish and Indonesian emphasis on mysticism as the primary rubric for self-understanding of their religion.

"These lessons in religion remain vital to their professions," explained Brill. "After completing their education, these students go on to teach or accept administrative positions that require a certain religious flavor. From the perspective of the Indonesian government, interreligious understanding is essential to sustain a cohesive environment, devoid of religious tensions."

In addition to the graduate course, he also spoke about Judaism to several Islamic, Christian and Hindu institutions. Brill had been amazed by the overwhelming response and desire to learn about contemporary religious concerns such as how social media impacts religious conflict or the practice of religion today. Following the lectures, he had hundreds of students waiting to shake his hand and take selfies with him.

Among his other interfaith efforts, Brill also participated as a delegate at a religious conference in Singapore. More than 1,000 delegates attended the three-day networking event. The conference featured many strong advocates for uniting the global community through religion including Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong and renowned author Karen Armstrong.

As a professor at Seton Hall, Rabbi Brill continues to pass these experiences forward and foster respect and reciprocal understanding between all religions. His book has received acclaim from many experts in the field of religion.

Rabbi, professor, traveler, storyteller, spiritual seeker, all of these roles have woven together to enable an outstanding achievement: Alan Brill's Rabbi on the Ganges. This book serves both as an introduction to Hinduism and also as a comparative study of Hinduism and Judaism. Brill has an ability to sift between the essential and the trivial that allows this introduction to be significant and meaningful, exploring the history of Hinduism and its variety of denominations and philosophies.
— Rabbi Yakov Nagen, senior educator Otniel Yeshiva

To find out more about his latest book, visit Rabbi on the Ganges: A Jewish-Hindu Encounter.

Categories: Faith and Service

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  • Laurie Pine
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