Controversy over Ajcongress’ Jewish-christian Relations Institute
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Controversy over Ajcongress’ Jewish-christian Relations Institute

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The creation by the American Jewish Congress of an Institute for Jewish Christian Relations to promote dialogue on theological issues has come under fire from other Jewish organizations after the news media reported that Rabbi David Bleich, Tenzer Professor of Law and Ethics of Yeshiva University, had walked out on the Institute’s first meeting last week in Lucerne, Switzerland. He was quoted as saying he had not realized the talks would be centered on theological issues. But a spokesman for the AJCongress told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “he was informed beforehand as to the nature of the meeting. Indeed, Rabbi Bleich’s paper was the theological centerpiece of the conference, and presumably he knew what he was going to say.”

The Lucerne conference on “The Authority and Interpretation of Scripture in Judaism and Christianity,” attended by scholars from all over the world, constituted the first annual encounter of the Institute, which is affiliated with the AJCongress. The other co-sponsor is the Institute for Christian-Jewish Research of the Theological Faculty of Lucerne, a Roman Catholic institution, in cooperation with the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.


Informed sources confirmed to the JTA that a letter is being sent to the Vatican Commission by the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) which will express sentiments of “dismay” and “concern” that this venture “may be misconstrued as an attempt to break the unity of the Jewish people.”

The IJCIC comprises representatives of the World Jewish Congress, Synagogue Council of America, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and the Israel Jewish Council for Interreligious Consultations.


Israel Singer, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, and Elan Steinberg, director of its American Section, said their objections to the AJCongress’ venture was twofold.

“First,” Singer said. “nearly 20 years ago, the Vatican agreed to consider IJCIC as the official representative organization of the manifold voices of world Jewry. Since (PLO chief Yasir) Arafat was received by the Pope (in the fall of 1982) difficulties have arisen in the Catholic-Jewish dialogue. It would seem — and we hope we are wrong — that the singling out of only one Jewish organization by the Vatican as a partner in dialogue was a political end-run on their part; and attempt to circumvent the IJCIC. This creates serious assymetry in the relationship.”

The second point, Singer continued, “deals with Orthodox Jewry’s objection to theological dialogue. The question is not whether or not such dialogue is acceptable to the majority of Jews, but that one of our main constituents finds it unacceptable and that we must be responsive to their concerns. The IJCIC could not funtion without Orthodox representation.”


Contacted by the JTA, Dr. Michael Wyschograd, the director of the AJCongress’ Institute, stated that a vital factor was apparently being overlooked in that, while the IJCIC, which was created in 1967 on the initiative of Rabbi Henry Siegman when he was executive vice president of the Synagogue Council of America, clearly has a representational character for world Jewry, the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations has no such pretentions.

Siegman, who is presently AJCongress executive director, said the Institute was created to offer the opportunity for scholars and theologians to meet, to present papers destined for publication, and to exchange ideas on the level of advanced studies and on the basis of individual research. No scholar or theologian would be representing anyone beyond himself, he affirmed.

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