(JTA) — A. James Rudin, a leading Reform rabbi and educator and the longtime director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, will be knighted under the Papal Order of St. Gregory for his work on Catholic-Jewish relations.
He will become the ninth Jewish person to receive the honor in the Order’s nearly 200-year history. Other Jews so knighted include Walter Annenberg, the philanthropist and creator of TV Guide; the prominent Conservative rabbi Mordecai Waxman; Argentine interfaith advocate Rabbi León Klenicki; Rabbi David Rosen of the AJC; and various philanthropists, businesspeople and musicians with Jewish ancestry.
The honor recognizes people whose work has supported the Catholic Church, which can include Jews focused on interfaith projects.
Earlier this year, Rudin, 88, published a memoir, “The People in the Room: Rabbis, Nuns, Pastors, Popes, and Presidents,” which recounts his many trips abroad during his time working at the AJC as part of his work to improve Jewish-Christian relations in the years after the Holocaust.
“For more than 50 years, Rabbi James Rudin has worked to advance Catholic-Jewish relations, and interfaith relations on a wider scale, with extraordinary skill, dedication, and success,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, said in a statement. “The impact of this work continues to grow as successive generations build on the foundation Rabbi Rudin has established.”
In his memoir, Rudin recounts how growing up in Alexandria, Virginia, among Southern Baptists, he and his Catholic classmates were singled out during a class reading on the New Testament and asked to leave the room. After graduating from rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College, Rudin served as an Air Force chaplain in Japan and Korea, where he befriended a Catholic priest with whom he partnered to lead Catholic-Jewish programming. When he finished his service in the Air Force, Rudin served as a pulpit rabbi at multiple midwestern synagogues before joining the American Jewish Committee in 1968. He eventually became the AJC’s director of interreligious affairs and continued his work in the Jewish-Catholic interfaith space.
Rudin also founded the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies at Saint Leo University, a Catholic liberal arts university in western Florida, where he is currently listed as a visiting professor and serves on the advisory board. The investiture ceremony honoring him will take place on Nov. 20 on the Saint Leo campus.
Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg, director of the United Nations relations and strategic partnerships for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, helped nominate Rudin for the honor.
“This knighthood clearly demonstrates the evolving positive relations between Catholics and Jews,” Greenberg said. “Rabbi Rudin well deserves this historic, international honor.”