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Interfaith expert Michael Signer dies

NEW YORK (JTA) — Rabbi Michael Signer, a leader in Catholic-Jewish relations, has died.

Signer died Jan. 10 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, the Catholic News Service reported.

Signer was a professor at Notre Dame University, where he taught Jewish thought and culture in the Department of Theology and was the director of the university’s interdisciplinary program on the Holocaust. Previously he taught at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s campus in Los Angeles.

He also was active in advancing Catholic-Jewish understanding. Much of his research as director of the Holocaust program focused on Jewish-Christian relations, a Notre Dame spokesperson said. He also taught at various Catholic institutions, participated in a dialogue of priests and rabbis in Los Angeles, and organized seminars at the Center for Dialogue and Prayer at Auschwitz and the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow. In 2005, he was designated a "person of reconciliation" by the Polish Council of Christians and Jews.

The American Jewish Committee, an organization with which Signer sometimes worked, released a statement mourning his passing.

“Dr. Signer’s scholarship on Christianity merged with his deep reservoir of Jewish knowledge, producing for all a better understanding of our two traditions and how we can work together,” said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, the group’s U.S. director of interreligious affairs. “Most of all Michael taught by his own personal example of interreligious cooperation. His expertise, his wry humor and his friendship will be missed.”

Signer’s passing was noted as well by several American Catholic leaders. Retired Baltimore Archbishop Cardinal William Keeler in a letter to Signer’s widow said Signer gave Catholics "a critical reflection on the long-standing conflicts between our communities." And Father James Massa, the executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, said Signer’s influence on Catholic-Jewish relations was "of great importance."

"As a scholar of ancient Christian texts and as a teacher for a generation of students at Notre Dame, Michael brought a wealth of erudition and critical insight to the Catholic Church’s dialogue with Judaism," Massa said.

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