Moscow Synagogue Attacked During Services; Panic Among Worshipers
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Moscow Synagogue Attacked During Services; Panic Among Worshipers

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Reports that the central synagogue of Moscow, largest and most important Jewish house of worship in the Soviet Union, was stoned on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, while High Holy Day services were in progress before a congregation crowded beyond capacity, were confirmed here today by highly reliable sources. The Jewish Daily Forward first reported the occurrence here yesterday.

According to the reports, received here, Moscow’s central synagogue was jammed with worshipers, while an overflow crowd of hundreds of other Jews milled in the street outside the edifice, when suddenly a hail of stones smashed through several windows, shattering the glass and showering the worshipers with broken splinters of glass.

Services were being conducted at the moment by Moscow’s venerable Chief Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin. Shocked by the stoning, members of the congregation were thrown into panic, many of the Jews running for the exit doors. However, those who were trying to leave found themselves halted by the crowds on the outside.

The reports pointed out that none of the Soviet militia was on duty at or around the synagogue at the time the attack took place. Usually, there are militia men on duty in front of the synagogue on Jewish holidays.

There were no reports of injuries resulting from the attack and the subsequent panic, however. The reports did state that no one was arrested and that no mention of the entire occurrence has been made to date either in the Soviet press or on the Soviet radio.


The reports on the violence occurring on Rosh Hashanah in the synagogue were coupled with an interview given this weekend by Chief Rabbi Levin to the Moscow correspondent of the New York Times from which it could be seen that Jewish religious leaders in the Soviet capital are nervous about what may happen to their synagogue.

The Chief Rabbi told the correspondent that the practice of Jewish tourists and Israeli Embassy personnel of leaving religious articles in the synagogue “was being utilized by black-marketeers” and is exposing the synagogue to attacks in the Soviet press. He identified the “black-marketeers” mainly as Georgian Jews. One such attack appeared in the Moscow newspaper Trud which charged that the synagogue was being used by Israeli diplomats to distribute Zionist literature and to gather “espionage and other slanderous information.”

In his interview, in Yiddish, with the correspondent of The New York Times, the Chief Rabbi denied there had been a threat to close the synagogue because of such activities, but he added that the congregation was expected by the Government to adhere to certain standards of behavior and not to permit black-market activities and other such practices as marriage matchmaking. Matchmaking still survives to some extent in certain social groups of the Soviet Union. It is frowned upon ideologically. Rabbi Levin said that two weeks ago the president of the congregation, Naum S. Paler, warned the membership against such activities.


Rabbi Levin told the New York Times correspondent that 300 Jews attend daily services at the Moscow synagogue, on Sabbath their number reaches up to 1, 000 while on the High Holy Days the worshipers overflow into the street. He asserted that the financial condition of his congregations is “good” and explained that the financing of the synagogue comes from private contributions.

Moscow was reported in the 1959 census as having a Jewish population of 236, 000. In addition to the central synagogue, Moscow has a “prayer room” in the Maryina Roshcha district of the city and one in the district of Cherkizovo. Also a small synagogue at Malakhovka, a suburb on the eastern outskirts of the city. The Malakhovka synagogue had been burned down by arsonists in 1959, on the evening of Rosh Hashanah, resulting in the death of the sexton’s wife. No one had ever been reported arrested as a result of the Malakhovka occurrence.

Rabbi Levin was also asked by the interviewer about the status of the yeshiva which he has been conducting in a room at the synagogue. The rabbi reportedly said he has six students at the yeshiva now and that he had hoped to enroll eight or nine more from out of town, but the lack of housing in Moscow had made this impossible thus far.

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