By PETER STEINFELS
Published: September 17, 1989
Three major American Jewish organizations have formed a new group to represent them in international discussions with the Vatican and other Christian bodies. The action reflects divergent approaches by Jewish groups to interreligious dialogue and to issues like the dispute over a Roman Catholic convent at Auschwitz.
The formation of the organization was announced on Wednesday by leaders of the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League.
Their joint effort springs from dissatisfaction with the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, an umbrella group of Jewish agencies that has served as the primary Jewish voice in dealing with the Vatican since the early 1970’s.
Tensions that have manifested themselves in the dispute about the Auschwitz convent have long existed within the International Jewish Committee over what tone and tactics to adopt in addressing differences with the Catholic Church.
Supporters of the new organization, which will be called the Jewish Council for International Interreligious Relations, have disagreed with what they regard as the confrontational style of some of the International Jewish Committee’s other member bodies, especially the World Jewish Congress.
The founders of the new Council for International Interreligious Relations also expressed frustration with the limits put on dialogue with Catholics or other Christian groups by Orthodox Jewish participants in the international committee. Most Orthodox Jewish leaders object in principle to interfaith theological discussions.
Leaders of groups represented in the International Jewish Committee were particularly critical of the American Jewish Committee’s decision to withdraw from that body and help form the new entity. The Anti-Defamation League withdrew from the umbrella group four years ago. The American Jewish Congress never belonged to it.
”We’re very disappointed in the American Jewish Committee,” said Rabbi Henry D. Michelman, executive vice president of the Synagogue Council of America. ”This contributes to an unfortunate sense of divisiveness in the Jewish comunity, especially at this time when so much is at stake in Catholic-Jewish relations.”
Rabbi Michelman denied that the Orthodox ban on theological dialogue had seriously limited interfaith discussions.
Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, acknowledged that there have been significant ”philosophical differences” between his group and other members of the international committee. But he said it was important for world Jewry to resolve those differences and be represented by a single body. Some Complaints
Mr. Steinberg defended the World Jewish Congress’s stands as accurate reflections of its constituents’ strong feelings on issues like the convent at Auschwitz. He said European and Latin Jewish groups with a voice in the international committee through the World Jewish Congress had complained of being ”disenfranchised” by the establishment of a separate body by the three major American Jewish organizations.
But Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said the creation of the Council for International Interreligious Relations reflected the reality of pluralism among Jews.
The difficulty of achieving consensus in the International Jewish Committee had hampered its effectiveness, he said, while the new council ”will be able to move more quickly and conduct a richer dialogue with its Christian counterparts.”
Some members of the International Jewish Committee believed that interreligious dialogue was ”a dubious enterprise at best,” said Dr. Michael Wyschogrod, who heads the American Jewish Congress’s Institute of Jewish-Christian Relations.
The International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, which met on Thursday and chose Seymour D. Reich, president of B’nai B’rith International, as chairman, will continue to operate.
Article was originally published in the New York Times.