The leader of a major organization of Orthodox Jewish congregations in Southern California has said that his group will boycott an interfaith meeting in Los Angeles with Pope John Paul II this September unless the pontiff agrees to discuss the Vatican's record during the Holocaust and diplomatic recognition of Israel.
In a letter to the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, Rabbi Alan Kalinsky wrote that unless there were "substantive issues" on the agenda, it would be "meaningless and demeaning" for the assigned representatives of the Orthodox Jewish community to attend.
But area leaders of the Reform and Conservative wings of Judaism said Friday that they disagreed with Kalinsky's boycott tactic.
Msgr. Royale Vadakin, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles official in charge of planning the meeting with the Pope, said the format of the 45-minute exchange with 400 Southern California representatives of the Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist faiths will not allow time to discuss such topics.
Kalinsky is regional director of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, which has about 1,200 congregations in the United States and Canada, including 12 in Southern California.
However, the union does not speak for all congregations or rabbis in the Orthodox wing of Judaism. The most traditional of the four branches of Judaism, the Orthodox wing is less inclined toward interfaith dialogues and tends to be more loosely structured.
"I fail to see what that kind of boycott is likely to accomplish," said Rabbi Lennard Thal, regional director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, an umbrella group representing 65 Southland Reform congregations.
Paul Dubin, a Conservative rabbi who is executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, said: "We are responding as one of four groups in a ceremonial meeting. . . . This is not where we have the audience. Hopefully, it will happen in Miami."
The Pope will engage in a structured conversation with 200 national Jewish leaders on Sept. 11 in Miami, the first stop in his nine-city U.S. visit. Leaders planning the meeting have said that they do not know whether the Vatican's refusal to recognize Israel will be raised there. The Pope has repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.
"The hesitancy on the part of the Orthodox community (to attend the Los Angeles meeting) is understandable," said Alfred Wolf, retired chief rabbi of the Reform Wilshire Boulevard Temple and a leader in local Catholic-Jewish dialogue.
"But their absence would be regrettable, and I sincerely hope . . . there can be a clear understanding and that the Jewish community will be represented in all of its facets."
Thal said 50 of the 100 seats allocated to the Jewish community at the Sept. 16 meeting in the Japanese Cultural Center have been assigned to "religious entities," including 10 each representing the Reform and Conservative wings, eight representing the Orthodox and three the Reconstructionist. The Board of Rabbis of Southern California has been assigned 19 seats.
The other 50 seats have been allocated to representatives of lay Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, Thal said.