There are two major personnel changes in the world of Jewish-Christian dialogue, even as meetings between representatives of the two religions continue.
On the Catholic side, Pope John Paul II has appointed German Cardinal Walter Kasper to head the Vatican’s Commission on Relations with the Jews – the Roman Catholic Church’s primary representative on Jewish issues.
On the Jewish side, interfaith observers were stunned to learn that Rabbi David Rosen, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Israel office, and a world renowned Jewish interfaith specialist has jumped ship to the American Jewish Committee to take on a job created just for him, international director of interreligious affairs.
All this occurs amid a flurry of interfaith activity:
On March 5, two New York-area Jewish interfaith organizations gave a specially commissioned four-foot-tall menorah commemorating the Holocaust to Baltimore Cardinal William Keeler. The “Yom HaShoah Menorah,” conceived by Gunther Lawrence, director of the Interreligious Information Center, and created by Israeli sculptor Aharon Bezalel, will be given to other Catholic institutions across the country in coming months.
Last Sunday, a new group calling itself the Rabbinical Committee on Interreligious Dialogue cosponsored a seminar at Seton Hall University examining the differences in Jewish and Catholic approaches to suffering.
Next week, an international conference to analyze the future of the dialogue will be held at England’s Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations cosponsored by the New York-based Tanenbaum Center For Interreligious Understanding and Chicago’s Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Center.
And in May, the Vatican’s retiring Cardinal Edward Cassidy will come to New York and officially meet for the last time with organized Jewry’s interfaith group, called IJCIC, at its biannual summit.
The pope accepted the 77-year-old Cardinal Cassidy’s retirement last week after an 11-year run. He oversaw such historic positive developments as Vatican recognition of the State of Israel and the publications of two Vatican documents of regret about the Holocaust, as well as continuing controversies such as the crosses at Auschwitz and canonization of the problematic 19th century Pope Pius IX.
Cardinal Cassidy, a native Australian and longtime Vatican diplomat, will step down in June when he is succeeded by Cardinal Kasper, a 68-year-old theologian.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Rosen, who helped negotiate the Vatican’s diplomatic recognition of Israel, will fill the vacancy left by Rabbi A. James Rudin, who officially retired from AJCommittee last June, but continues as an adviser.
“I see it as the premier Jewish professional position in this field,” Rabbi Rosen told Interfaith Affairs. “I will have offices in the AJC offices in Jerusalem, where I will continue to reside.”
Rabbi Rosen, who assumes his new post on April 2, will have two associates, one in Chicago and a not-yet-hired national director of interreligious affairs based in New York.
His departure is seen as a blow to the ADL, leaving it without any full-time interfaith expert, following the recent retirement of its respected longtime director of interfaith affairs, Rabbi Leon Klenicki.
“I am parting very amicably from Abe Foxman,” Rabbi Rosen said, referring to ADL national director for whom he worked for 13 years.
Foxman said Rosen’s loss would not affect the ADL’s commitment to interfaith activities, which he plans to greatly expand in the coming months. He called Rosen’s knowledge and presence “a cherry on the cake” to the ADL’s already strong relationship with the Vatican. Foxman said he has already hired Rosen’s replacement, attorney Wayne Firestone, to head the Israeli office.
Rabbi Rosen was born and educated in Britain, and received Orthodox ordination in Israel. From 1975-79, he was the senior rabbi of the largest Jewish congregation in South Africa, where he founded the Inter-Faith Forum: the Council of Jews, Christians and Muslims.
From 1979-85, he was chief rabbi of Ireland, where he helped create the Irish Council of Christians and Jews. In 1988, he was named director of ADL’s interfaith relations in Israel and became the director of the office in 1997.
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Since 1995, Rabbi Rosen has served as a president of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (WCRP), a global interfaith group. In August 1998 he was elected president of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ), the umbrella organization for 30 national groups devoted to promoting Jewish-Christian relations.
Cardinal Kasper will not only lead the Vatican’s interaction with Jews, but also the Church’s dialogue with other Christian denominations. Considered a progressive theologian, Kasper was born in the German town of Brenz. He studied philosophy and theology at Tubingen and Munich and was ordained a priest at the age of 24. After receiving a doctorate in theology at Tubingen, he served as an assistant to Hans Kung, barred from teaching theology in Catholic schools because of theological conflicts with the Vatican.
Cardinal Kasper taught dogmatic theology before the pope made him a bishop in 1989. He was made secretary to the Jewish commission last year. He is also a leading candidate to succeed German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church’s religious lawmaking body.
Jewish experts hailed Cardinal Kasper’s appointment.
“It’s excellent and demonstrates the continuing commitment of the Catholic Church to the dialogue and cooperation with Jewry,” Rabbi Rosen said.
“I like him tremendously as a person; I found him to be genuinely charming, interested, caring and understanding,” said Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue and the Reform movement’s IJCIC representative.
Rabbi Klenicki, now a consultant to ADL, said that Cardinal Kasper’s selection signals the Vatican’s desire to emphasize theological discussions with Jews. He emphasized Cardinal Kasper’s specialization in the Jewish background of Jesus. “This shows they want to discuss in depth theological matters dealing with early Christian relations and Rabbinic Judaism.”
But the topic of theological dialogue is a flashpoint for some Orthodox interfaith participants, who believe they are prohibited from engaging in such conversations by the late 20th-century Orthodox scholar Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. In 1964, the man called “The Rav” warned that theological discussions could lead to nasty disputations, as seen in the Middle Ages when rabbis were forced to debate the claimed truths of Christianity.
Rabbi Rudin said that “Cardinal Kasper’s appointment offers a challenge to IJCIC,” which despite its international title, is composed primarily of representatives of the establishment American Orthodox, Conservative and Reform movements, as well as several national Jewish organizations. IJCIC also meets with other world religious bodies.
Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor declined to discuss IJCIC’s theological hot potato. He said the main theme for the May conference would be “repentance and reconciliation in both Catholic and Jewish tradition in the past and the demands for the future.”