Daniel Spiro is a thinking man. A senior trial counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice, he helped to found both the Jewish Islamic Dialogue Society and the Spinoza Society in Washington. He is now writing his third book, a non-fiction book about God. "Though some people would say it's impossible to write a book about God without it being fiction, I'm going to try my best," he says. Spiro attended Stanford University and Harvard Law School before returning to his native Bethesda, where he lives with his wife and two daughters. He spoke to The Washington Examiner about the philosophical life and his outlets for living it.
Do you consider yourself to be of a specific faith?
I am a Jew. And I consider myself a religious Jew, even though I am not Orthodox. And I very much appreciate that Jews are people of doubt as well as people of faith. But we are strongly tied traditionally to God and to an ethical life. And I try to honor that in both regards.
What led you to found the Jewish Islamic Dialogue Society?
I am deeply concerned about fighting in the Middle East and the lack of peace in Israel and Palestine. I recognized in Jews and Muslims people who should be natural allies. Jews and Muslims have so much in common, particularly with respect to their views about God. And yet there is so much antipathy and fear between Jews and Muslims. So I thought it was time to get to the two groups together and study their similarities and embrace their differences and not fear them.
Have you seen fruit from the discussions?
Jewish Islamic Dialogue Society participants have appeared to be much more willing to stay within peace groups rather than quitting them as soon as they start seeing that others don't share their views. It builds a sense of community among Jews and Muslims and Christians, a sense that we are all part of the family of Abraham. We at JIDS refer to each other as cousins, rather than enemies.
You also should know that JIDS prides itself on not being a kumbaya group, where people hold hands and talk about how similar we all are. We deal with difficult and controversial topics, and people speak freely about them.
In your book "The Creed Room," intellectuals convene to find a creed that all humans -- atheists and theists, conservatives and liberals -- can agree on. Do they succeed? Why did you pick this topic?
They do. I picked this question because I think we are living in a society that is crumbling on account of polarization. You can see polarization between our political parties, and you can see polarization in the way traditional Zionists and traditional Palestinian nationalists fight with each other. It creates paralysis in the United States government and in efforts to create peace. I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if some group of people got together and tried to find some common ground?"
One of your heroes, Baruch Spinoza, taught that philosophy, or "intellectual love," can lead to virtue and contentment. As an author, a lawyer, a philosophical thinker, you seem to be living this out. Has it brought the satisfaction Spinoza promised?
I'm no Spinoza. I would never put myself in the same sentence, paragraph or even book as Spinoza, because he was truly one of our species' greatest people in my opinion. I'm just a Jew who is trying to live according to the principles of my faith and do my part to help the world and engage in activities in which I am passionate. But when you're a person of passion, it's inevitable, I think, that you would be frustrated at times. But when you're a person of faith, you should be able to overcome those frustrations and get back to work. And that's what I like to do -- get back to work. Being Jewish is not about achieving Nirvana. If you look at one of our more recent saintly figures, Abraham Joshua Heschel, he died at 65, and he looked like he was 95.
At your core, what is one of your defining beliefs?
That if you are a believer, the most important precept should be to live your life so as to honor God, and we honor God best by trying to change the world around us in a positive way, rather than simply to engage in rituals, though hopefully one does both.
- Liz Essley