Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, named one of America’s "50 Most Influential Rabbis” by Newsweek, recently visited the University of Oklahoma at the invitation of the school’s religious studies program.
Hirschfield, 45, is director of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in Manhattan, N.Y. He is the author of the book "You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism.” While in the Oklahoma City area, Hirschfield visited The Oklahoman for an interview about his book and his thoughts about the growing number of interfaith discussions and events across the country: Q: Why did you decide to write "You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right”? A: I wrote the book because I believed the tradition that I draw on most, Jewish, and the other traditions that I’ve encountered can be used to help people lead happier, more ethical, more fulfilling lives, because I believe that we need to learn how to be deeply committed and genuinely open. Q: What kind of response has the book received? A: It’s been very positive. It’s been from Jews. It’s been from Christians. It’s been from people who are politically interested. It’s been from people who are theologically engaged. But at the end of the day, I think the most gratifying thing is when someone says, ‘I read the book and a husband or wife with whom I wasn’t getting along, we’re making it better,’ (or) ‘a brother or sister who I haven’t talked to in years, we’re beginning to talk.’ A child and a parent who have become alienated from each other are beginning to work things out. If it (the book) does that for just a few people, then it will all have been worth it, and it seems to have done it for a lot more than that. Q: What are some of the things that keep people from resolving conflict? A: Fear. For me, the opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s fear. I think that people’s fears often get in the way of resolving conflicts in their lives because those conflicts come to define them. They know who they are because of who they are not. They know what they believe because they know they don’t believe what ‘those people’ believe. I think it’s very hard to resolve any conflict when your sense of self is contingent upon being locked in a controversy with someone else. I think fear is a big piece of it. I think the other piece is not trusting the power of love. I don’t know that love can overcome all things, but I know it can overcome a whole lot more than we often allow it to. Q: It seems that here in Oklahoma, we are having more interfaith discussions, forums and activities. Do you attend many of these types of functions? A: Yes, I think interfaith encounter is critical.