A new dustup has hit IJCIC, the Jewish coalition group that claims to represent the world Jewish community to the Vatican. One key member, the Anti-Defamation League, has quit, even as the umbrella group officially known as the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations tries to resurrect itself in the face of sharp criticism and years of ineffectiveness.
ADL interfaith director Rabbi Leon Klenicki said the IJCIC is no longer relevant.
Last March, the group was declared dead by the Vatican’s chief interfaith official.
And now other IJCIC members are angry over a letter sent out last week by newly elected chairman Seymour Reich.
The letter states that IJCIC has officially decided not to engage in dialogue on two of the most controversial issues facing Jewish-Catholic relations today: the beatification of World War II-era Pope Pius XII, and theological discussions over important religious issues facing the two faith communities — an initiative strongly desired by the Vatican.
Critics noted that Reich seems to unilaterally have made these decisions without their approval, and that taking these issues off the table renders the group irrelevant.
They also voiced displeasure that Reich scheduled a meeting in Rome next week on Oct. 18 with Cardinal Edward Cassidy, head of the Vatican’s Commission on Religious Relations, seemingly without prior consent.
“There is tremendous confusion,” said Rabbi Joel Meyers, an IJCIC member and executive director of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly. “We can’t abide a chairman going off and doing things without agreement from the participants.”
(IJCIC’s coalition includes representatives of the three major denominations, and several secular national Jewish groups.)
In a Sept. 27 confidential letter from Reich obtained by The Jewish Week, Reich also stated that “IJCIC is not prepared to engage in any theological discussions or theological programming.”
IJCIC member Rabbi James Rudin, interreligious director for the American Jewish Committee, said “Everything that we want to talk about should be on the table for both sides, otherwise you don’t have a dialogue. If theology is out of bounds, you could never have an interfaith conference on Jewish attitudes toward prayer, including ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
Reich countered both criticisms.He says that taking Pius XII off the table has been a consensus position by IJCIC members since April. “Our position has always been the Catholic Church has the right to name whoever they wish as saints.” IJCIC would only enter the debate if the Vatican cites Pius’ alleged saving of hundreds of thousand of Jews as a reason for sainthood.
Reich also said that the ban on theological discussion “has been true for IJCIC for years.”
When asked what constitutes theological discussion, Reich said: “I’ll know it when I see it.”
IJCIC’s Orthodox members have opposed theological discussion based on a 35-year-old opinion by the late Modern Orthodox Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. Some Jewish interfaith experts say Rabbi Soloveitchik’s 1964 opinion is outdated and needs revision, but that there’s no one with standing in the Orthodox world to do so. Brooklyn College History Professor David Berger, an IJCIC member representing the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, upholds the Soloveitchik ban.
Inquiring Minds In MidtownAs technology and travel continue to shrink the world, people interested in matters of the spirit have become more inquisitive about religions other than their own.
That curiosity is the basis of an ambitious new interfaith adult educational center launched last week in Midtown. The venue is the magnificent St. Bartholomew Church on Park Avenue, a historic Episcopalian church.
And the director of the new “Center for Religious Inquiry” is Rabbi Leonard Schoolman, a former director of Reform Judaism’s programming department.
Rabbi Schoolman, a short, wiry man with a quick smile, most recently founded the Center for Theological Studies, an interfaith education program at Christ Church Cathedral in Houston.
A Brooklyn native and graduate of Erasmus Hall High School, Rabbi Schoolman was lured back from Texas by St. Bart’s Rev. William Mcd. Tully to duplicate the Houston center for Midtown business people.
“The courses are high level and aimed at seekers to increase knowledge of religion in general,” the rabbi said last week, launching the first array of fall courses.
Reflecting heightened Jewish concern over renewed missionizing efforts by some Christian groups, the center stresses that courses are held in a “non-conversionary” environment, at the community center adjacent to the church. The weekday 5:30 or 6 p.m. starting time are for the benefit of Midtown business people.
Several courses are being taught by prominent lecturers from the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, and the Anti-Defamation League.
Rabbi Schoolman rejects the traditional Jewish approach that discourages studying other religions. “My feeling is any Jew studying another faith comes back a richer Jew.”
Indeed, the fall semester is loaded with Jewish-oriented courses, as well as sessions on Confucianism, Buddhism and Christian thought.
A sample of courses gives a flavor of the center’s direction. “Jesus the Marginal Jew” is described as “a friendly dialogue that examines Jesus’ teachings in the context of Jewish tradition.” Another course is called “The Roots of Anti-Judaism in the Four Gospels” co-taught by Rabbi Leon Klenicki, ADL’s director of interfaith affairs, and Dennis McManus, a liturgy expert for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The attraction of the center’s approach seemed evident last week when hundreds of people filed into St. Barts to hear Walter Cronkite, New York Times national religion reporter Gustav Niebuhr and Wall Street Journal religion writer Lisa Miller discuss religion in public life. The reporters noted how the Internet and globalization are changing the face of religion irrevocably. For more information about the center, call (212) 378-0290.