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Participants in the opening session of the Jewish Agency Assembly, who expected President Moshe Katsav to try to mend fences with the Reform Movement in the wake of media reports about his refusal to address Reform rabbis by their title, were disappointed.
Not only did Katsav make no mention of the controversy in his address delivered at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Jerusalem on Sunday, but even in his introductory remarks he omitted any reference to rabbis, while he singled out other individuals and groups.
The lacuna was overcome at question time when John S. Ruskay, executive vice president and CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York and a former vice chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary of Conservative Judaism, brought up the matter and asked whether given the developments of recent days, Katsav could fully honor and respect the diversity of the Jewish population of the United States.
Katsav reiterated what he had told The Jerusalem Post last week. In the course of many meetings between the President and the leadership of the Reform Movement, the title issue had never been raised - not in conversation and not in writing.
Throwing the ball back into Ruskay's court, Katsav asked: "Do you think the media is the proper channel to open this discussion? We had a fruitful dialogue, and suddenly this dispute comes up and I have to read about it in the press. No one wrote me a single letter. You talk about respect. Where is the respect for the President of the State of Israel?"
Explaining as he had done to the Post that he was bound by the decisions of the Chief Rabbinate and the Knesset, Katsav said that should these bodies decide that the spiritual leaders of the Reform Movement should be addressed as 'Rabbi' he and his successor would abide by that decision.
Then remembering the (untrue) reports that Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the World Union for Reform Judaism was going to boycott a reception that Katsav was allegedly to have hosted, Katsav thundered: "No Reform rabbi will boycott the President of Israel! He would not have dared boycott the President of the United States. I did not boycott him. He has no right to say what he says to the media."
Taken somewhat aback by Katsav's outburst, Ruskay said that he was hoping to get past the situation and that he was confident that a way could be found.