American Clergymen Protest to Khrushchev on Soviet Anti-semitism

A group of 46 Protestant, Catholic and Jewish clergymen assailed Soviet anti-Semitism in a cable today to Soviet Premier Khrushchev, and urged the Russian Government to lift its official policy of oppression against its Jewish citizens.

The religious leaders sharply criticized the “blanket restraints” against all religions in the Soviet Union, and emphasized that Judaism was placed outside even “the narrow framework of permissible religious practice” allowed in Russia. The cable will be published tomorrow as an advertisement in four metropolitan newspapers as a cooperative under baking by the religious signatories and the American Jewish Committee. The religious leaders signed in their individual capacities.

The cable, delivered to the Soviet Embassy in New York for transmission to Premier Khrushchev, charged that, while most other faiths are permitted “bare necessities” for religious practice, the almost 3,000,000 Russian Jews were “denied minimal rights conceded to adherents of other faiths.” The statement asserted that legally constituted Jewish congregations were isolated from one another, forbidden to organize a central body, and denied any contact “with Jewish religious groups in other countries. Their leaders are singled out for abuse.”

“Since June 1961, synagogue presidents in six cities have been arbitrarily removed from office,” the statement added. “Jewish communal leaders in Leningrad and Moscow have been sentenced to prison for the alleged crime of meeting with foreign visitors to their synagogues. Scores of synagogues have been closed by the state. The few that remain are served by rabbis who were ordained more than 40 years ago. For more than a generation, Jewish theological summaries have been banned, except for a lone yeshiva in Moscow, opened in 1956. Its enrollment, never permitted to exceed 20, was reduced to four in April 1962.”

The statement also asserted that no Jewish Bible had been printed in 40 years, that no articles for Jewish ritual can be produced in Russia and that this year, “for the first time in Soviet history, even the sale of unleavened bread, essential to observance of the Pass over, was banned. The prayers of Judaism are said in Hebrew, yet the teaching of that language is forbidden.”

ASSERT CONDITIONS REMIND THEM OF ANTI-SEMITIC STALIN REGIME

The religious leaders also stated that, while 500,000 Jews declared Yiddish as their mother tongue in the 1959 Soviet census, “their hundreds of schools, their once flourishing theatres have been stamped out. Much smaller ethnic or linguistic groups have schools, theaters, books and newspapers in their own languages.”

“These conditions revive memories of the anti-Semitic Stalin regime” which, the statement stressed, Premier Khrushchev had denounced. The cable urged the Soviet Union to implement its frequently repeated claim that it was “a champion of human dignity and equality” and a “defender of minority rights” by lifting these repressive measures. It called on the Soviet Government to change its behavior to conform “to its own professed principles” and to the standards of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to the constitutions of enlightened countries which affirm that “freedom of conscience and expression is vested unconditionally in every human being.”

The religious leaders added that, unless the Soviet Union takes steps to guarantee complete freedom of religious practice, “it forfeits the confidence of all peoples. By deeds alone can your Government confirm that the Soviet Union in truth upholds the rights of minorities and the equal dignity of man,” the cable emphasized.

The signatories of the cable to Khrushchev included Dr. John C. Bennett, dean of faculty of the Union Theological Seminary; Dr. Harold E. Fey, editor of the Christian Century; Dr. Alvin Rogness, president of the Lutheran Theological Seminary; Archbishop Patrick A. O’Boyle, of Washington, D. C.; Dr. Norman Gerstenfeld, of the Washington Hebrew Congregation; Dr. Nelson Glueck, president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion; Rabbi Julius Mark, president of the Synagogue Council of America; and Archbishop Iskovos, of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America.

NEXT STORY