Two Orthodox Jewish organizations will boycott the long-planned meeting of U.S. Jewish leaders with the Pope in Miami Friday, forcing the rabbi who was to address the Roman Catholic leader to name a substitute speaker.
Orthodox Rabbi Gilbert Klaperman, president of the New York-based Synagogue Council of America, made up of Reform, Conservative and Orthodox religious bodies, said Tuesday that he was yielding to the wishes of his Orthodox colleagues by not speaking, although he said he thought they were being "shortsighted."
Spokesmen for the boycotting groups, the Union of American Orthodox Congregations of America and its rabbinical arm, the Rabbinical Council of America, said that during a Sept. 1 meeting with Jewish leaders the Pope did not satisfactorily respond to objections to his June audience with controversial Austrian President Kurt Waldheim. The spokesmen were also disappointed with the Vatican's continued refusal to move toward diplomatic relations with Israel. They said that meeting with the Pope during his U.S. tour would be inappropriate.
Also affected by the joint Orthodox decision is the locally oriented interfaith celebration with Pope John Paul II in Los Angeles next Wednesday. Three Orthodox rabbis said last week that they could not attend the Los Angeles event in good conscience. On Tuesday, Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, West Coast director of the Union of American Orthodox Congregations of America, said that he and four Orthodox laymen also will decline their invitations.
A compromise reached in New York Tuesday avoided what could have been an awkward exit by the Synagogue Council from the Miami meeting.
Either Orthodox organization could have vetoed the participation of the Synagogue Council, which has handled the distribution of about 200 invitations for the Friday event. But Orthodox officials said they would not exercise their vetoes as long as Klaperman, the lone speaker besides the Pope, did not represent the council.
"We hold Rabbi Klaperman in high esteem and he in fact is a past president of our group," said Rabbi Milton Polin, president of the Rabbinical Council of America.
"But we did not feel it was appropriate for an Orthodox rabbi to represent the Synagogue Council when the two Orthodox organizations would not be present. As a group we will not go; individuals will have to make their own decisions," Polin said.
Klaperman, who said he will attend the meeting, on Tuesday appointed Conservative Rabbi Mordecai Waxman, the honorary president of the Synagogue Council, to take his place representing the Synagogue Council.
In a telephone interview, Klaperman said that his Orthodox colleagues "were making a mistake, but we live in a democracy. There is nothing to be gained from refraining to continue the dialogue." Klaperman was a member of the international Jewish delegation that met for more than an hour with the Pope Sept. 1.
Although many Jewish leaders were disappointed with the results of that unprecedented discussion, Jewish leaders who have been most active in Jewish-Christian dialogues nevertheless have decided to go to the Miami and Los Angeles events.
"On theological issues there is hesitancy on the part of many Orthodox rabbis to dialogue with Christians," said Rabbi Paul Dubin, executive director of the Southern California Board of Rabbis, which is handling ticket distribution to Jewish participants in the interfaith celebration in Los Angeles. Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu groups will also be represented.
Jewish acceptances in Los Angeles have not followed Orthodox/non-Orthodox lines strictly: Reform Rabbi Isaiah Zeldin, senior rabbi of the large Stephen S. Wise Temple, has said that he would turn down his invitation, whereas Orthodox Rabbi Maurice Lamm, president of the National Institute for Jewish Hospice and a member of the Board of Rabbis, said he would go.