B’nai B’rith Offers Matzohs to Russian Jews; Soviet Envoy ‘may’ Act
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B’nai B’rith Offers Matzohs to Russian Jews; Soviet Envoy ‘may’ Act

The B’nai B’rith today offered to provide matzohs for this year’s Passover to the Jews of the Soviet Union. The offer was made by Label A. Katz, national president of B’nai B’rith, “as a simple act of Jewish brotherhood,” in a telegram to the chairman of the Soviet Council for the Affairs of Religious Cults sent through the office, here, of Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Soviet Embassy told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that earlier requests for Mr. Dobrynin’s intervention in the Russian-Jewish matzoh situation, voiced in Congress, are being studied here and “may” be acted upon. The spokesman, however, added that “there is considerable doubt that the report is true.” and said “something may be done, if the reports turn out to be true.”

The fact that the Soviet Government has forbidden this year the baking of matzohs in State-owned bakeries was announced last Saturday to the congregation of Moscow’s Central Synagogue by that city’s Chief Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin. He said that State bakeries produced 120 tons of matzohs last year for Moscow’s 500,000 Jews. Smaller amounts were made by State bakeries in other Russian cities. The Chief Rabbi said this was the first year the Government had refused to permit its bakeries to make matzohs. It has also barred baking of matzoh privately by Jews as a form of commercial enterprise.

However, the spokesman for the Soviet Embassy here said the veracity of the repot about Rabbi Levin’s announcement “remains to be checked.” He declined to comment on whether the Ambassador had taken steps to check the report with the Soviet Government. Asked why the reports were questioned here, he replied that “the original source of the report was not clearly indicated, nor was the purpose of the order clearly stated.” He added that a “more definite” reply to the inquiries might be forthcoming in a few days.


Like members of Congress who had already spoken out on the issue, Mr. Katz, in his matzoh offer, cited the draft principles on freedom of religions rights and practices which are currently on the agenda of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, at U.N. headquarters in New York. Russia’s denial of matzohs to its news, said Mr. Katz, is “in direct conflict” with those principles. These, he noted, stipulate explicitly that “members of a religion or belief shall not be prevented from acquiring all materials and objects necessary to the performance of prescribed rituals or practices, including dietary practices.” The principles also provide that “where a Government controls the means of production and distribution, it shall make such materials or objects, or the means of producing them, available to the members of the religion or belief concerned.”

Mr. Katz’s offer of matzohs to the Russian Jews followed an earlier offer made by U.S. Senator Jacob K. Javits, of New York, Republican. Sen. Javits said that New York matzoh bakers would ship to Russia an adequate quantity of matzohs for all the Jews there, if the Soviet Government would permit the entry of such shipments. No word on that offer has been received from the Soviet Government.

Cables from Moscow received here today showed Chief Rabbi Levin was taking a gingerly attitude toward the offer made by Sen. Javits. The Chief Rabbi was quoted as saying it was “not a matter for us alone” but for the Soviet authorities. “One would have to have permission from the Soviet Government,” he said, in Moscow. He said further it was not up to the Jews of Russia “to ask why” the ban had been issued, and that he could not protest the Government’s matzoh decision. (Another dispatch from Moscow reported that the Israel Embassy staff there would import matzohs for its own use from Israel.)