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ICJS History

Founding Era: 1987

The first ICJS logo.

The first ICJS logo.


ICJS was founded in the context of the historic changes  in Jewish-Christian relations that began, in part,  with the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council and its 1965 seminal document, Nosta Aetate regarding the Church’s relationship with Judaism and the Jewish people. Cardinal Lawrence Shehan of Baltimore, accompanied by a young priest, Fr. P. Francis Murphy,  played a key role in the drafting and adoption of Nostra Aetate, which repudiated antisemitism and the charge that Jews were collectively guilty for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.


A number of years later, then-Bishop Murphy assembled a Catholic study group to consider the implications of Vatican II, particularly as it concerned the Church’s stance toward Judaism. Shortly thereafter, two other Baltimore religious leaders, the Rev. Robert Patterson, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, and Rabbi Mark Loeb of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, assembled a similar Protestant interfaith study group. These two study groups eventually merged, forming a truly interreligious gathering.


A seminal event occurred in 1984, when representatives of the Murphy, Patterson and Loeb group attended the 8th National Workshop on Christian-Jewish Relations in St. Louis. An opportunity arose when the next city slated to host the conference dropped out and the Baltimore contingent seized the opportunity. The 9th National Workshop on Christian-Jewish Relations was held in Baltimore in May 1986, and had the workshop’s largest participation, with more than 1,200 attending. The focus was more theological than previous sessions, and the major presentations were delivered by nationally and internationally recognized scholars. The presentations were published in two volumes by Paulist Press.


To capitalize on the momentum of the national workshop, a group of clergy, lay congregants and Baltimore business leaders created the institute in 1987, electing Richard Berndt, Bernard Manekin, and Charles Obrecht as its first co-chairs. After a national search, the Rev. Dr. Christopher Leighton was appointed executive director and led the ICJS for the next three decades. The impact of the ICJS has been widely acknowledged, prompting Rabbi Irving Greenberg, the founder and president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership to write:


“The ICJS is the most comprehensive, pioneering combination in the U.S., and possibly the world, of advanced thought, clergy involvement, and lay participation.”


Early Years: 1988-1997

Bill Moyers' Genesis Resource Guide

Resource Guide for Genesis: A Living Conversation


In its early years, ICJS focused on combating anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism in Christian communities by facilitating dialogue between Christian and Jewish clergy.


In 1996 journalist and producer Bill Moyers launched a PBS series, Genesis: A Living Conversation, and he selected the ICJS and Baltimore to develop a pilot project to host interfaith, multiethnic educational events using the Genesis series and viewers guide. Baltimore-area congregations partnered with one predominantly white church, one predominantly African American church, and one synagogue, all agreeing to meet together and discuss the Genesis curriculum over several years.


From 1988-1991, ICJS sponsored the Maryland Interfaith Project, where 200 clergy and lay leaders from Christian denominations met monthly over the three years to consider the teaching of contempt in their own teachings and scriptures. Dr. Leighton developed curriculum for the 10 participating denominations. The ICJS also took clergy and lay people from the Maryland Interfaith Project on study trips to Israel and Palestine.


In 1994, ICJS inaugurated the Scripture Forum, where local Jewish and Christian clergy studied their scriptures together that continued for more than two decades.

Middle Years: 1998-2007

Dabru Emet publication in New York Times

Full-page Dabru Emet ad in the New York Times


In the late 1990s, ICJS convened a working group of rabbis and other Jewish leaders to form the National Jewish Scholars Project. In 2000 they produced Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity, a ground-breaking document in Jewish-Christian relations. Dabru Emet (Hebrew for “Speak the Truth”) was published on Sunday, Sept. 10 as a full-page statement in the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun and other major newspapers and religious internet sites.


It was written by four interdenominational Jewish scholars and was eventually signed by more than 220 rabbis and other Jewish intellectual leaders. Consisting of eight claims pointing out common ground between Christians and Jews and offering a legitimacy of Christianity from the Jewish perspective, Dabru Emet generated both praise and criticism. It served as a significant, as well as contested, moment in the fields of modern Jewish thought, Jewish–Christian relations, and interfaith and interreligious studies.

Later Years: 2008-2017

Following 20 years of using office space at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church, ICJS completed a capital campaign and in 2008 built the Bunting-Meyerhoff Center in Towson.


ICJS building in Towson

The Bunting-Meyerhoff Center at 956 Dulaney Valley Road in Towson


In 2012, ICJS inaugurated the annual Manekin-Clark Lecture, which brings nationally known religious leaders to Baltimore to speak on relevant interreligious issues. The lecture is endowed by the Bernard and Vivian Manekin Foundation and the Clark Charitable Foundation in honor of the creative interfaith friendship and partnership of Bernard Manekin and Jim Clark.


In 2013, ICJS collaborated with the Washington Theological Consortium to develop the Emerging Religious Leaders Intensive program, a one-week intensive session of education and dialogue for Christian seminarians and Jewish rabbinical students. In 2022, ICJS will replicate the successful program, creating a Muslim-Christian Intensive for students from Islamic seminaries and educational institutions and Christian seminaries.


In 2013, a group of secondary school teachers approached ICJS in the hope of creating greater professional development and training programs for educators who teach about religion. ICJS created a variety of educator workshops to offer resources and cross-institutional for teachers in public, independent, and religious schools.


In 2014, ICJS began Reclaiming the Center, a program that guided Christian and Jewish congregations in interreligious study and dialogue, piloting it in Atlanta in partnership with First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta and The Temple. ICJS also developed a teaching program, called Abraham’s Children, in partnership with World Pilgrims, to guide Jews, Christians, and Muslims in interfaith dialogue.

Transitions: 2016-2017

In 2013, ICJS Trustees approved the expansion of the organization’s mission to include Islam. The first Muslim scholar joined ICJS in 2014. In 2016, Trustees approved changing the name to the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies, although keeping the moniker ICJS. 


In 2016, in response to the citywide unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, ICJS launched two interconnected programs: 



In 2016, founding executive director Christopher Leighton stepped down after 29 years of leading ICJS.

Christopher Leighton, founding executive director

Chris Leighton

In 2016, Heather Miller Rubens, ICJS Roman Catholic scholar, was named executive director.

Recent Years: 2018-Present

interfaith event between Bolton St. Synagogue and St. Matthew Catholic Church

Rabbi Andy Gordon and Fr. Joe Muth share at interfaith event with Bolton St. Synagogue & St. Matthew Catholic Church


In 2018, ICJS launched the Teachers Fellowship, a one-year cohort to equip educators to become leaders in raising interreligious literacy and innovating new pedagogy around religion in secondary schools.


In 2021, ICJS welcomed its first Congregational Leaders Fellowship cohort, which includes clergy and lay leaders from congregations in the Greater Baltimore region who engage in a year-long intensive process of deepening relationships and understanding across religious traditions. This is ICJS’ first congregational program that includes Muslim communities.


In 2021, the Board of Trustees and ICJS staff adopted a new Strategic Framework that will guide the vision, mission, and future of ICJS for years to come.

“The ICJS is the most comprehensive, pioneering combination in the U.S., and possibly the world, of advanced thought, clergy involvement, and lay participation.”

Rabbi Irving Greenberg

President, National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (circa 1990)