Ninety-five percent of world Jewry lives in just nine countries, which is less than ten percent of the world’s nations.
And yet, there are pockets of Jews and active Jewish communities in most of the remaining 186 countries. Dedicated rabbis and their families make enormous personal sacrifices to serve these minor congregations.
Such rabbis play an outsize role of epic importance. Often they do much more than enable fragile communities to continue, and their members to sustain their faith and connectivity. Indeed, such rabbis are uniquely positioned to interface with host governments at the highest levels in order to nurture a hospitable environment in which Jewish traditional life can flourish. In so doing, the local rabbis also have a unique role to play in fostering international peace and universal brotherhood.
Most people would be surprised to learn that not only are there Jews in most Islamic states, but quite active Jewish communities in a number of them. Some of the Jews in Muslim countries are the remnants of communities with centuries, even millennia-old roots where they live. Others, increasingly, find themselves in these remote locations for a variety of personal, professional or governmental reasons.
It is worth noting that Jewish men and women who might normally have little active interest in Jewish life, desire a more meaningful connection to their roots and traditions precisely when they are far from the major Jewish population centers. For this reason alone it is so important to have idealistic rabbis ready and willing to serve in such remote outposts.
The Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States (ARIS) was created to connect and support the activities of rabbis serving Jewish communities in predominantly Muslim countries. At present, the membership of ARIS is comprised of rabbis in Albania, Azerbaijan, Morocco, Turkey, Tunisia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, UAE, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Nigeria and more, as well as rabbis serving in communities of other Muslim majority regions, such as North Cyprus, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.
The significance of this cannot be overstated.
We live in precarious times. No day goes by in which we are not reminded of the fragility of peace, the imminence of catastrophe, and the parlous state of communication between societies with different and conflicting perspectives.
The Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States is one of the very few apolitical, non-government organizations that enjoys favorable relations with parties that may be in conflict with one another. Owing to its unique sensitivity to all sides, ARIS can serve a significant mitigating role is defusing tensions and bridging a gap that might otherwise yield to outright conflagration.
Rabbis have played such a role in Islamic societies for centuries. Their counsel had often been sought by kings and ministers – precisely because they were apolitical – to help mitigate delicate issues of international significance. As such, ARIS is continuing noble tradition of rabbis as peacemakers.
The rabbis of ARIS are full-time residents in the countries and communities they serve. They support local Jewish life while leading the initiatives to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. The rabbis of ARIS are always available to share their knowledge with governmental and non-governmental bodies on all matters of coexistence, mutual tolerance and the quest for global peace and harmony. As a united voice, they provide a powerful model for mutual respect and the quest for interfaith deference.
The Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States is a global Jewish asset, and a global Jewish responsibility. As critical as its members’ role is in serving their local Jewish communities, such communities rarely possess the means to support a full-time rabbi and his family. This alone should merit the generous support of concerned Jews everywhere.
However the meta-role played by The Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States – as peace makers and counselors to government leaders and decision makers – is one that echoes globally and benefits all of humankind. As such, it should enjoy the generous support of people of good will wherever they may be.