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Waxman, Mordecai


WAXMAN, MORDECAI (1917–2000), U.S. Conservative rabbi, interfaith activist. Waxman was born in Albany, n.y., and received his B.A. from 1937. In 1941, he was ordained at the *Jewish Theological Seminary, which awarded him an honorary D.D. in 1968. After serving as rabbi of Temple Beth Israel in Niagara Falls, n.y. (1941–42), he became founding rabbi of North Park Congregation Shaare Tikvah in Chicago, Illinois (1942–46), leaving the synagogue for two years during World War ii to serve as a chaplain in the U.S. Army. In 1947, he was appointed rabbi of Temple Israel in Great Neck, Long Island, where he remained for 55 years, until his death. Under his leadership, Temple Israel grew from 100 member families to 1,300 families.

Waxman emerged as a leader in the Conservative movement after he edited and wrote the introduction to Tradition and Change (1958), the definitive anthology of writings on the views and philosophy of *Conservative Judaism. He became chairman of the Membership Committee of the *Rabbinical Assembly (1966–68) and subsequently editor of the journal Conservative Judaism (1969–74). He also chaired the ra's Committee on the Study and Reevaluation of the Community Service Program (1969–70) – a requirement that jts graduates enter the military chaplaincy or a designated alternative equivalent that had become so unpopular during the Vietnam War that it was terminated. In 1974, Waxman was elected president of the Rabbinical Assembly, where he worked to strengthen ra representation in the World Council of Synagogues, the official representative of Conservative Judaism in the *World Zionist Organization. Seeking to establish Conservative Judaism in Israel, he pressed for greater coordination among the various Israel programs sponsored by the ra, the jts, and United Synagogue. Also during his term of office, the ra approved the plan to publish a new commentary on the Torah for use in Conservative synagogues.

Following his term in office, Waxman became president of the Conservative movement's World Council of Synagogues (1980–85) as well as president of the Synagogue Council of America (1983–85). As president, and later as chairman of the National Council of Synagogues (1996–97), he participated in the annual assemblies on world Jewish affairs convened by the presidents of the state of Israel, as well as in the deliberations of The Hebrew University's Diaspora Institute headed by Moshe *Davis. He was also instrumental in obtaining the funding for the first headquarters of the United Synagogue of America in Jerusalem.

Waxman, who served as chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation (1985–87), was particularly active in Catholic-Jewish relations. In 1987, he led a delegation of Jewish leaders that met with Pope John Paul ii at Castel Gondolfo to resolve the *Waldheim affair. Soon after, he spoke for American Jewry in welcoming the pope to the United States. For many years thereafter, Waxman and Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore co-chaired an annual series of Catholic-Jewish dialogues. He helped draft the welcoming Jewish response to the Vatican document We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah and worked to implement its mandate that Jews and Catholics sponsor joint educational programs on the Holocaust. His efforts were instrumental in bringing about the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and the State of Israel (1993). In 1997 he was awarded the Nostra Aetate Award, and in 1998 he became the first rabbi to be named by the pope a Knight Commander of the Order St. Gregory the Great.

Concerned about widening differences within the American Jewish community, Waxman joined with Reform, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist rabbis in the 1986 "Symposium for Unity" – a traveling panel that discussed Jewish issues from the perspectives of the four denominations. He was also a contributor to numerous publications, including the Encyclopedia Judaica. In recognition of his many contributions, he was named Rabbi of the Year in 1991 by the New York Board of Rabbis – the first rabbi to receive the $10,000 Finkle Prize that accompanies this designation. Other honors bestowed on him were the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ziegler Rabbinic School of the University of Judaism (2001), and the Louis Finkelstein Award from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (2002).

[Bezalel Gordon (2nd ed.)]

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