In his weekly Torah message this past Friday, Jerusalem-based rabbinic scholar and prolific author Rabbi Nachman Kahana called for a public disputation, to be held in Jerusalem. He encouraged Israel’s Chief Rabbinate to invite “the papal representatives living in Israel and from other countries, as well as Islamic scholars” to debate spiritual matters with Israel’s leading Jewish scholars, in a public forum.
A scholarly article in the Jewish Encyclopedia defines disputations as “Public debates on religious subjects between Jews and non-Jews.”
In his message, Rabbi Kahana traced the history of disputations from their Biblical origin, claiming that the first religious disputation occurred when Moses attempted to convince Pharaoh that the Israelites should be allowed to worship God in the desert.
Disputations between Jews and representatives of the Catholic Church often ended in expulsion and persecution of Jews, particularly in the 13th century. One of the two most famous disputations of that period was held in Paris in 1240. Two years later, 24 carts full of copies of the Talmud, Judaism’s core rabbinic text, were torched in the same city.
Arguably the most famous disputation of all was held in Barcelona, Spain in 1243. The debate centered on whether or not the promised messiah had already appeared and whether the messiah is human or divine. The Jews were represented by Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, known as Nachmanides, a leading medieval Jewish scholar, philosopher and physician. As a direct result of the disputation, Nachmanides was forced to flee Spain.
Rabbi Kahana confirmed for Breaking Israel News that a public disputation in our day, to be held in Jerusalem, with a goal of clarifying spiritual truth, could bring the world a step closer to geula (redemption).
Rabbi Kahana believes that the time has come for the spiritual character of Israel to take center stage. “Israel’s present political and financial interaction with the gentile world is a total distortion of why HaShem (God) has placed us in this world!” he wrote in his call for the disputation. Further, he expects that such an event “could create an avalanche of interest among the gentiles,” in a Jewish message.
According to the prophet Habakkuk, all people on the earth will ultimately know and understand the same spiritual truth. The prophet Habakkuk is believed to have lived just before the destruction of the First Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In the Jewish mystical tradition, he is identified as the son of the Shunamite woman, whom Elisha blessed in II Kings, chapter 4.
This common, shared spiritual knowledge is understood to be an outcome of the messianic process.
For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. Habakkuk 2:14
Implicit in Rabbi Kahana’s call for a public disputation is that various religious claims would be presented and debated, and the outcome of the debate would help move the world toward the messianic vision of Habakkuk and other prophets.