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Forum 2000: Rabbi Says Humans All In One Boat

Prague, 14 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Israel's chief rabbi, Meir Lau, reached deep into Jewish scriptural history today for a metaphor to capture the modern human condition. He used the story of Noah's Ark from the Book of Genesis.

Speaking to the Forum 2000 conference in the Czech capital Prague, Lau said in effect that humankind finds itself once more buffeted by storms, and said everyone is in the same boat.

Why, he asked, did the later prophet Isaiah speak of a future time when the lion would lie down with the lamb, when this already had happened in the story of Noah?

One answer, the rabbi said, is that the people and animals aboard the Ark had no alternative. They had a common enemy outside, the flood. It was cooperate or perish. Isaiah's vision was of a time of peace brought about voluntarily by goodwill and civility, even when there was no common enemy.

Rabbi Lau told the gathering of world leaders, writers and scholars at Prague Castle that people in this new era of globalization have failed to understand that they, like the animals on the Ark, are in one boat with common enemies. He asked: Don't we have a flood of bloodshed? Don't we have a flood of starvation? Don't we have a flood of disease? In his words: "We don't understand what the animals understood in Noah's Ark."

Discussions of human rights, the Jewish religious leader said, should not overlook the primary human right -- in his phrase, "the right to life, the right of survival."

This year's Forum 2000, the second in a series of four annual international conferences initiated by Czech President Vaclav Havel, is focused on the theme of globalization of the world's economies, politics, and cultures. The conference concludes today with a closing address by Havel