March 5, 2006

Religions: from the dialogue of the deaf to understanding



The Argentine, Baruch Tenembaum, a pioneer in the communication among different creeds, teaches us that ignorance is the engine of hates and of present wars.

How can it be understood that religions professing love, charity and compassion, are excuses for present wars?

The use of the word ”excuse” seems perfect to me since it is men who make the wars and use religion as an excuse. Tyrants commit crimes using the excuse of ”order”. Nazis organized the Holocaust on behalf of a ”pure race”. The Turks massacred Armenians. The Colonials slaughtered the Indians. Iraqis destroyed the mosque belonging to a religious group that is Islamic. Stalin killed millions of people in an atheistic country. Crime, if it is crime, is committed whether you invoke religion or not. And love, if it is love, is simply offered and lived with or without religion. The main difference is that real religion proclaims love. If Humanity only respected the Ten Commandments, the Creation of the world would be completed…that is to say, perfection would be achieved.

Why is ignorance the great enemy of Humanity?

I’m not talking about ignorance just as a synonym of indifference or a lapse of concentration, but as a complete lack of knowledge regarding the other one. As long as we get to know someone we begin to let go of our fear to that person. This simple and basic principle is the main base of the interconfessional dialogue.

A principle that seems too complicated for million of believers.

Millions of people do not understand that it is not necessary to accept ones principles and understand them. We, as people, have the freedom to be whatever we want to be. Ignorance can only weaken that. There is an old Aramaic story that tells about two people in the desert coming from opposite directions. As they could not distinguish the other one that was coming closer through their shadows, they drew their swords ready to defend themselves. Upon meeting, they realized that they knew each other. They simply threw down their swords and hugged one another. This story tells us that without fear, people would be a lot more understanding of one another. Fear needs to be evanescent.

How could we change in religion to help our understanding?

First of all we should eliminate the word tolerance. It is a bad word. Those who tolerate, sin. You can tolerate a pain, or a great lack of comfort, but you cannot tolerate another human being. I am the same as any other person as long as I consider them equal.

Isn’t it naive to claim to have the answers of historical violence by means of the interreligious communication?

Communication tends to destroy ignorance, and to help others understand to look for common denominators in each other in order to help solve problems (poverty, environment, government, economy, etc). There is a philosophical concept through which we recognize each other. Whether the world was created in six or seven days or in millions of years, we should continue building it, and continue making it a decent place to live.

If beliefs are being discussed, how can an agreement be reached?

The agreement is not about faith or theological beliefs. Each of us will continue sticking to his or her faith, and his or her source of inspiration. The agreement is based on respect, the knowledge and understanding of our rights that each one of us can be different from the other.

What aspects of Islam, Catholicism and Judaism (three great religions in conflict nowadays) prevent them from being closer?

The extreme of those who try to convince, who wish to impose upon themselves, who pretend to prophesize in the name of God, who proclaim they will kill in the name of religion, is ridiculous. None is the owner of life, even his own. That is why religions condemn suicide: to kill yourself means to kill the creation of God. We are The Creation of God.

Are religions not themselves the main problem?

Did God create man or was it the man who created God? To answer this question I say that religion is a human creation. If there is a responsibility, it is man’s responsibility. In the same way that if there is merit, it is also man’s merit.


Graduated in the Superior Institute of Jewish Religious Studies, Baruch Tenembaum was the first director of the Israeli Argentine Cultural Institute. From the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, formed by tens of Nobel Prize Laureates, he promotes interconfessional communication, a recognized mission in the world. He was born in Santa Fe, and he emigrated to USA in 1976 when he was kidnapped by the dictatorship.

Translation: Graciela Forman
Edited by Adriana Karagozian