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Photo by Brian Cohen

Profile by Megan Zimmerman

The eighth commandment, according to the way some Christian traditions count the Ten Commandments, reads “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” For the Reverend Canon Natalie Hall, this is a guiding principle for how she chooses to live and lead.

Having grown up in a Christian household with a mother who was raised Jewish, close relationships with Jewish family, friends and neighbors shaped Hall’s views on the interconnectedness of Jewish people and Christians. Her understanding of these relationships was particularly enhanced when attending seminary.

“When you study theology particularly if you’re going to a Christian institution, if it’s responsible, you’re not going to get out of it without having a deep study of the Hebrew scriptures, or better yet, Hebrew itself,” Hall said. “I had excellent professors who helped me learn how the story of and history of Jews and Judaism leads to the Christian story. You cannot have Christianity without Judaism.”

Hall noted that she has felt lucky to have relationships across faiths in her personal life as well as in her professional life as an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, now serving as Canon for Evangelism and Faith Formation for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and Rector at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Squirrel Hill.

As Canon for Evangelism and Faith Formation of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, Hall focuses on helping Christians understand what it is to be a Christian as well as on how to help Christians get along with other Christians who may be different from themselves. This work led further to interfaith education beyond Christian denominations.

“There’s an interesting space to help Christians figure out how they are in relationship with other faith traditions,” Hall said.

Hall was connected to Rabbi Jeremy Markiz, the educational rabbi at congregation Beth Shalom.

“We realized that we have a lot of really similar interests, and we decided to get together some educational series and just see if people show up. And people did, and they loved it,” Hall said.

This first interfaith educational series began in 2017, and built a necessary foundation of relationships and connections for when the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting occurred in October of 2018. This led Hall, along with other leaders in the Episcopal and Lutheran church bodies, to continue their work with Jewish leaders in Pittsburgh to build more educational forums, open to individuals of any faith or belief system, that allowed for a deeper understanding of Judaism, the diversity of Jewish people and Jewish practices. Together with other church leaders, Hall understood that many community members simply lacked an understanding of the traditions of their neighbors.

“It was helpful; I noticed that a number of friendships emerged out of the programs that we ran,” Hall said. “We were running another series on Passover and Easter, since the two observances typically fall around the same time, with a number of interfaith and ecumenical partners in the lead-up to both Passover and Easter 2020 so that everyone could get to know what everyone else’s tradition was all about and that was when the pandemic hit.”

This interfaith series continued in a virtual format throughout the pandemic, continuing to build relationships among Christian and Jewish neighbors. Recently, in-person small group meetings have been able to occur, bringing Christians and Jews together to discuss the current topic in a new series with the book The Bible With and Without Jesus by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Brettler.

“Participants have conversations about the contents of the book, but just as exciting and wonderful as the book is, it’s also a good way to get people sitting at a table together. Our primary goal is that people develop real, abiding friendships with each other,” Hall said.

Hall referred back to the explanation of the eighth commandment in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism which states that “we are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”

Hall noted that the branch of Christianity she follows is a non-proselytizing form, meaning that she does not seek to convert Jewish people to her belief system, but rather to get to know the traditions of her Jewish neighbors while sharing her own for a greater understanding of one another and friendship.

“It is much harder to be suspicious of, hurt or even kill your neighbor if you know your neighbor’s name, you’re eating together with your neighbor and you actually have a relationship,” Hall said.  “And so it is deeply important to me to do the very slow and intentional work of getting to know people, helping others, especially in the Episcopal diocese or in the Lutheran synod, get to know members of the Jewish community so that way when we see each other in the grocery store we call each other by name and say ‘hello.’”