NEW YORK (Apr. 20)
The possibility that the Soviet Government might drop the designation “Jew” from Soviet identity documents this year, during the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Revolution, was indicated in Moscow to an American interfaith study mission sponsored by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, it was reported at a press conference here today by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, of New York, president of the Foundation and member of the mission which just returned from the Soviet Union.
It was the unanimous opinion of the mission, Rabb Schneier reported, that “the outlook for the religious survival of the Soviet Jews was dark.” In addition to the rabbi, the fact-finding mission included Dr. Harold A. Bosley, minister of Christ Church Methodist, vice-president; Father Daniel Flaherty, executive editor of the Jesuit weekly, “America,” and former Congressman Francis E. Dorn, secretary-treasurer of the foundation.
“Because of the lack of teachers and rabbis and. especially the lack of educational facilities to train such religious leaders, Judaism as a religion is pathetically weak and growing weaker,” Rabbi Schneier told the newsmen at the press conference which took place in the Overseas Press Club. “We get some notion of the depth of despair in which they operate when we realize that the lay members of the synagogue councils are resigned to the fact that they will have to learn to operate under lay leadership unless some arrangements can be worked out for the training of rabbis.”
Presently there are only three rabbis — one each in Moscow. Leningrad and Odessa — for the entire Jewish community in the European part of the Soviet Union where most of the 3,000,000 Jews reside. The rabbi in Moscow, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin, is 74 years old; in Leningrad, Rabbi Lubanov is 86; and Rabbi Israel Schwarzblatt of Odessa is 54. Major communities like Kiev, with a Jewish population of 200,000, Riga with 45,000 and Vilna with 10,000, have no rabbis. No replacements have been available since the demise of their aged leadership.
“We explained our profound concern to Peter Makartsev, member of the Council on Religious Affairs of the Soviet Council of Ministers, and suggested that since the yeshiva in Moscow is still not functioning, that for the time being, Jewish students be given permission to study at seminaries in Europe, as Russian Orthodox and Baptist seminarians are allowed to do,” Rabbi Schneier said. “Mr. Makartsev agreed in principle. He said that it would be necessary to comply with the usual regulations for such a venture but thought that there would be ‘no problem.'”
U.S. SCHOLARSHIPS OFFERED FOR SOVIET STUDENTS FOR RABBINATE
The members of the mission said that the Foundation had offered scholarships to approximately 25 candidates for the rabbinate to study in countries approved by the Soviet Union.
Mr. Makartsev was asked whether it would be proper for the members of the mission to invite representatives of the religious groups whom they had visited in the Soviet Union to visit them in the United States, specifically if the Chief Rabbi of Moscow could join with other religious leaders in a visit and again Mr. Makartsev felt that there would be ‘no problem,’ Rabbi Schneier said.
The interfaith mission received a “flat declaration” from Mr. Makartsev, that the new prayer books, which have been promised for several years, will be available in time for the High Holy Days. “We were shown 430 plates from which the prayer books in 1956 were printed and 50 new plates to replace the damaged ones. The plates are available pending allocation of paper and the assignment of a printing plant in order to complete the 480-page prayer book.” the mission reported.
Just as there is a need for prayer books, so also is there one for prayer shawls (talesim). the mission emphasized. Nothing has been done about the manufacture of prayer shawls in the Soviet Union, out Mr. Liepa, Minister of Religious Affairs of the Latvian Republic, said that the need is being met by “gifts from outside.” This was the first indication that gifts of religious objects from the outside, which had been banned until now, would be permitted and accepted, the mission stated.
The mission found that the monuments on mass graves did not mention that the Nazi victims buried there were Jews — “this in contrast to the fact that Jews have on their identification cards the designation “Jew,” Rabbi Schneier said. It was at this point that he reported that “there was some indication that during this fiftieth anniversary year of the Russian Revolution, the designation “Jew” might be dropped from the internal passports.”