Jewish interfaith leaders, with one exception, have decided to reinvigorate the international coalition that represents the Jewish community to the Vatican, The Jewish Week has learned. The decision came at an April 29 meeting of members of IJCIC, the International Jewish Coalition for Interfaith Consultations, which has been criticized in recent weeks by Vatican officials. In fact, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican’s Commission on Religious Relations with the Jews, broke off relations with IJCIC and said he was looking for a new dialogue partner because of IJCIC’s association with the World Jewish Congress, which some Catholic leaders charge is anti-church.
But a dozen representatives of such Jewish agencies as the American Jewish Congress, B’nai B’rith International, the World Jewish Congress, the Orthodox Union, and the three major denominations, agreed that it would be a mistake to disband IJCIC, the 30-year-old umbrella group formed at the Vatican’s request as a single address for dialogue.
“There was no feeling to disband or cease IJCIC,” said Rabbi James Rudin, AJCommittee’s director of interreligious affairs. Rabbi Rudin will serve on a three-person temporary presidium made up of former IJCIC chairmen, with Long Island Rabbi Mordecai Waxman and chaired by attorney Seymour Reich to study how to reorganize and fund the group.
They will also explore candidates for a new chairman in light of the death last month of current chairman Geoffrey Wigoder.
However the Anti-Defamation League did not send a representative. ADL national head Abraham Foxman said he was not aware of the meeting. “I still don’t think we need to reconstitute IJCIC. At this point wr’re not sure we’re going to be part of it.”
Reich said he was asked to serve as interim chairman “to help the group refocus on its mission and to prepare a budget and meet again in three weeks to present a plan of operation.”
It’s not clear whether constituent members will agree to share funding of IJCIC, financed in recent years by the WJC at a cost of $60,000 a year, said WJC executive director Elan Steinberg.
Reich said Cassidy’s criticism, uttered during several public speeches last month, has served as a “wake-up call” for IJCIC “in that he caused us to take a look at what we were doing. His remarks in that sense were true in that IJCIC was not holding meetings and the chairman was living in Israel.”
Reich said that following a reorganization, IJCIC would reach out to Cassidy.
He said it will be important to dispel the notion that the WJC dominates IJCIC, “which isn’t so. I think the community owes WJC a debt of gratitude for keeping IJCIC alive.”
Steinberg said the meeting demonstrates that “not only is [IJCIC] here, but that Father Remi Hoeckman [an IJCIC critic on the Vatican commission] will not decide who the representatives of the Jewish people are.”
Dr. Eugene Fisher, director of ecumenical affairs for the National Conference of Bishops, called the IJCIC developments “positive and encouraging.” But he cautioned that IJCIC first needs to deal with what he called the anti-church attitudes the WJC.
“The problem was and is the World Jewish Congress’ current campaign to legitimize wild conspiracy theories about the Vatican during and after World War II,” Fisher stated. “It is not reasonable to expect representatives of the Holy See to sit down amicably with an institution seemingly bent on creating false and negative fantasies about the Catholic Church.”
Fisher also said it is imperative for the Jewish community to include “the religious aspects of our traditions” in interfaith discussions — an issue that could tear IJCIC apart because its Orthodox members are prohibited from theological dialogue with non-Jews based on a religious ruling by the late scholar Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik.