Menu JTA Search

Three Jewish Groups Form Entity to Improve Ties with Christians

Three national Jewish organizations have officially announced their decision to create a new entity to further understanding and communication between the Jewish community and international Christian bodies of all denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church.

The joint cooperative effort was announced here Wednesday by the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

The new group appears to be an alternative to the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, or IJCIC, the umbrella group that has been representing world Jewry to the Vatican.

Neither AJCongress or ADL is a member of IJCIC. AJCommittee, which did belong to the umbrella group, decided last week to pull out, a move that left IJCIC without a chairman.

Rabbi A. James Rudin, AJCommittee’s director of interreligious affairs, had been serving as IJCIC chairman. But on Monday night, the Synagogue Council of America, which serves as the umbrella group’s American Secretariat, decided he should no longer represent IJCIC to the Vatican or any other body.

Rudin is now the first of the rotating chairman of the new group.

IJCIC’s governing board will meet Thursday to appoint a temporary chairman, who will hold office until Jan. 1, when IJCIC rules requires that the representative of B’nai B’rith International take over the rotating chairmanship.

AJCommittee’s break with IJCIC and the formation of a new group with essentially the same purpose come at a time of severe strain in Jewish-Catholic relations over a number of issues, including the continuing presence of a Carmelite convent at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland.

STILL GOING TO THE VATICAN

Rudin had been in the process of negotiating arrangements for a meeting to discuss these issues between top Vatican officials and an IJCIC delegation. He was scheduled to travel to Rome next week to complete the process.

Rudin said he will still to travel to the Vatican next week, as originally planned. But instead of speaking for IJCIC, he will represent a new configuration of Jewish agencies.

Rudin’s visit to Rome will be the new group’s first formal attempt to make contact with what Rudin terms “appropriate Vatican officials.”

The status of IJCIC’s request to meet with the Vatican remains unclear and will be a prime topic of discussion at Thursday’s meeting of the group’s governing board.

The Vatican meeting had been tentatively scheduled to take place by the end of the month. But with the current turmoil surrounding IJCIC, it appears that any such consultation will have to take place after the High Holy Days.

AJCommittee this week was urged to reconsider its decision to leave IJCIC by the group’s other constituents, the Synagogue Council of America, the World Jewish Congress and B’nai B’rith.

“It is not good for the Jewish community to present a sense of disunity or competition among various agencies,” said Rabbi Henry Michelman, executive vice president of SCA.

Michelman emphasized that IJCIC will continue to operate in its existing structure, despite AJCommittee’s withdrawal.

But the formal announcement by AJCommittee, AJCongress and ADL made clear that, whatever the reasons for the AJCommittee’s withdrawal, there are no prospects for its return.

‘A STATE OF DETERIORATION’

Formation of the new body was announced by Silverman, Henry Siegman, executive director of AJCongress, and Abraham Foxman, national director of ADL.

The announcement said the three organizations have agreed to join in a cooperative effort to further understanding and communication between the Jewish community and international Christian bodies, including the Roman Catholic Church, and Protestant and Orthodox Christian bodies.

The statement released by the groups described Catholic-Jewish relations as being in “a state of deterioration.”

It said Jews and Catholics feel “their positions on several important issues have been treated with a lack of sensitivity by the other side.”

“Each side, we believe, must address these felt grievances, if we are to preserve the important gains that have been achieved in Catholic-Jewish understanding,” the statement said.

Those serving in the Secretariat of the new group will be Rudin, Rabbi Leon Klenicki of ADL and Dr. Michael Wyschogrod of AJCongress.

NEXT STORY