News for Sociology of Religion--Mon Feb 17 04:20:01 EST 1997

    NEW YORK—Meeting in New York City with leaders of Judaism's Reform and Conservative movements, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that he would not block a controversial bill to (New York Times) (*)

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    The Rev. Robert A. Graham, an American priest who became one of the Roman Catholic Church's foremost authorities on the Vatican's role in the rescue of Jews in World War II, died on Feb. 10 at a (New York Times) (*)



    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    NEW YORK—Meeting in New York City with leaders of Judaism'sReform and Conservative movements, Israeli Prime Minister BenjaminNetanyahu suggested that he would not block a controversial bill tobar the movements' rabbis in Israel from performing religiousconversions recognized by the state, according to participants inthe meeting.

    ``He implied that it was going to happen,'' said Rabbi EricYoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations,whose organization represents about 1,000 Reform synagogues inNorth America.

    He added that Netanyahu ``gave us no grounds'' for hoping thatthe prime minister would block the bill, which would ensure thatconversions occur solely under the authority of Orthodox rabbis.

    As drafted, the bill would apply only to conversions performedin Israel and not change the Israeli government's recognition ofconversions by rabbis of all branches of Judaism outside Israel.

    The half-hour meeting, which brought together Yoffie, RabbiIsmar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary inNew York, and six other leaders of the two movements, together withthe Israeli prime minister, took place at the Essex House afterNetanyahu had attended services at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue.Netanyahu arrived in New York from a visit to Washington, where hemet with President Clinton .

    In a letter to Netanyahu last November, Yoffie and Schorsch,whose seminary trains men and women for the Conservative rabbinate,requested a meeting to discuss the situation of non-Orthodoxreligious Jews in Israel.

    Although the Reform and Conservative movements account for thevast majority of religious Jews in the United States, the situationis far different in Israel, where the dominant religious group isOrthodox and most of the rest of the population is secular.Israel's founders gave the Orthodox control of the nation'sreligious affairs, a situation known there as the ``status quo.''But in the early 1990s, the Israeli Supreme Court seemed to openthe door to a greater role for the country's small Reform andConservative movements, with a ruling suggesting that conversionsin Israel by non-Orthodox rabbis could be legally recognized. Thethree Orthodox political parties that are members of Netanyahu'sgoverning coalition pledged after his election last year to reversethat ruling legislatively.

    In the meeting with Netanyahu, Schorsch said he wanted ``to makeit clear to the prime minister that if Israel is the center of the Jewish world, Israel has a responsibility to Jews in the Diasporaand not just to Jews in the state of Israel.''

    But he also said that Netanyahu indicated that he waspolitically bound to allow the Orthodox parties in his governmentto bring the bill to a vote. ``I think he made it pretty clear hehad made these commitments before the election and he was going tohonor them,'' Schorsch said. ``He did not hold out much hope foraverting the legislation.'' Netanyahu did not comment outside themeeting on his position. Despite their disappointment withNetanyahu's position, Yoffie and Schorsch said the meeting wascordial.

    Netanyahu later met with representatives of Orthodox groups. Aparticipant of that meeting, Rabbi Moshe Sherer, president ofAgudath Israel of America, an umbrella group of Orthodox Jewishorganizations, said that he and other Orthodox leaders were``prayerfully optimistic'' that Netanyahu ``will keep hiscommitment'' on the bill. ``We hope that he is serious aboutcodifying what was always the status quo,'' Sherer said.

    Netanyahu left for Israel Sunday night. His entourage wasdelayed by an accident involving a police motorcycle escort enroute to Kennedy International Airport. The unidentified officerwas hospitalized in stable condition.<

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    c.1997 N.Y. Times News Service<

    The Rev. Robert A. Graham, an American priest who became one ofthe Roman Catholic Church's foremost authorities on the Vatican'srole in the rescue of Jews in World War II, died on Feb. 10 at aJesuit retirement home in Los Gatos, Calif. He was 84 and had beenan outspoken defender of Pope Pius XII's wartime silence on Naziatrocities towards Jews and others.

    Church officials said the cause was kidney failure.

    Until he was in his 50s, Graham's chief claim to fame was thathis father, Charlie Graham, had played 30 games as a catcher andpinch hitter with the Boston Red Sox in 1906.

    A native of San Francisco who entered a Jesuit novitiate at 17and was ordained at 29, he studied at various Jesuit colleges,earned a doctorate in political science from the University ofGeneva in 1952, and then joined the staff of the Jesuit magazineAmerica in New York.

    As the magazine's associate editor, he conducted research in theVatican archives for his book ``Vatican Diplomacy,'' published in1959.

    As Graham later recalled, his work attracted little attentionbefore 1963, when he was rescued from obscurity by Rolf Hochhuth,the German playwright whose play ``The Deputy,'' portrayed thewartime Pope, Pius XII, as a virtual Nazi collaborator who hadrefused to denounce the Holocaust even as Jews were being shippedto their deaths.

    The play created such controversy that the next year Pope PaulVI ordered secret Vatican records of the Nazi era to be opened andpublished. As one of four priests assigned to the task, Graham wassoon making what he later described as stunning discoveries.

    In contrast to the image of the Vatican and the wartime popesuggested by the play, Graham said he found records indicating thatPius XII had operated a vast underground railroad that rescued morethan 800,000 European Jews from the Holocaust.

    ``Never were the Jews and the Vatican so close as during WorldWar II,'' he said in a 1995 interview. ``The Vatican was the onlyplace on the continent where they had any friends.''

    The records, eventually published in 11 volumes, did little tostill the criticism of Pius XII for not speaking out to denouncethe persecution of Jews.

    In response, Graham and the church suggested that, at a timewhen 2,000 priests were among those imprisoned by the Germans andRome itself came under their control, any public denunciations bythe pope would merely have made things worse both for the Jews andthe church, as he suggested Pius's predecessor, Pius XI, had donein the 1930s when he proclaimed that ``spiritually, we are allSemites.''

    To this the critics offered a counter theory, that a publicstatement by the pope might well have caused the Nazis to abandontheir final solution and that, in any event, at a time when 6million Jews were being systematically exterminated, nothing couldhave been worse.

    In addition to its central focus on the church's wartimepolicies, Graham's researches led him into some byways of history.He used the Freedom of Information Act, for example, to obtainrecords showing that American intelligence officials had been soembarrassed when they discovered that a spy they had planted in theVatican during the war had fabricated his riveting accounts ofpapal audiences that documents about the case were buried for yearson a Maryland farm.

    And in 1991, Graham gave a magazine a 1972 letter from Germany'swartime ambassador to Italy, Rudolf Rahn, describing how he hadtalked Hitler out of a plan to kidnap the pope.

    ``I'm 79,'' Graham said at the time. ``I thought I ought tounload this stuff before I pop off.''

    Over the years, as the debate on the Vatican's wartime roleebbed and flared anew, Graham continued to defend Pius XII. Whencritics, for example, suggested that the pope had refrained fromdenouncing the Nazis because he was more afraid of the Communists,as indeed, much of Catholic Europe was, Graham pointed to researchshowing that the pope had resisted repeated efforts to get him tosupport an early peace with Germany and even to give his blessingsto a proposal to enlist catholic legions to help Germany in itsbattles with the Soviet Union.

    Not that he dismissed the importance of communism to the debate.Just last year, Graham published a book, ``The Vatican andCommunism During World War II: What Really Happened?'' (IgnatiusPress), in which he argued that communist propaganda had influencedcritics of the church's role in the war.

    He is survived by two nephews, the Rev. Francis Smith of SantaClara, Calif., and Michael Smith of Sacramento, Calif.

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