For the past 20 years, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote has required its students to take two courses on the study of other religions: one on Christianity and one on another religion.
To continue that commitment to interfaith education, the college has received a $300,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, named for the well-known co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc.
"The world our rabbis serve is enormously multi-faith," said Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, Ph.D., director of the college's religious-students program. Rabbis, she noted, work with members of all faiths in hospitals, on campuses and on social-justice projects.
And due to the spate of interfaith marriages, she added, "our rabbis in congregations are, in fact, dealing with members of other faiths, right there in their pews."
The grant will fund a number of initiatives. The college will develop new courses, including a class that will pair rabbinic students and seminarians from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia to study biblical texts, using a traditional method of Jewish study called hevrutah.
Also, Fuchs-Kreimer and a professor or graduate student from the University of Pennsylvania will team-teach a course on Islam for RRC students.
Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein, director of the Elijah School for the Study of Wisdom in World Religions in Jerusalem, will also spend a week educating the college's faculty and students, along with students from Hebrew Union College and the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Finally, a group of 10 RRC rabbinical students and 10 of their Muslim peers will participate on a four-day retreat to study Jewish and Muslim texts.
"We are very aware of the pluralism of truth," stated Fuchs-Kreimer. "Within the non-Orthodox world, there's a recognition that we don't know everything about God from our tradition."
By engaging in dialogue, students can deepen their knowledge while exploring the nuances of their faith, she continued. "We can grow in our own faith, in our own development as believing Jews.