LONDON (Oct. 8)
Members of a congregation in Minsk have been given permission to buy a building as a substitute for their ancient synagogue which Soviet officials ordered razed for new housing, it was reported here today from Moscow.
The action by officials of the Soviet Byelorussian capital was seen here as a reversal of the long-standing Soviet policy of shutting down synagogues and churches without permitting substitute facilities, But it was also suggested that the Minsk development might be only a lone exception to the standing policy.
It was reported that, in giving permission for substitute facilities, the officials did not give any reason. But some observers here thought that the decision might be a reaction to severe and prolonged criticism in the West against Soviet anti-religious pressures on Russian Jews.
The razed synagogue was the only Jewish center in Minsk, which has a population of 56,000 Jews; The Minsk congregation received permission to buy a 20-year-old wooden structure, six miles from the old synagogue, involving a long journey on foot for the worshipers, since observant Jews will not ride on the Sabbath or Jewish Holy Days, The congregation paid $4,000 rubles ($4,400) for the building, and spent another 2,000 rubles to rehabilitate the structure which, as a synagogue, will seat 100 worshipers. The former synagogue could seat several hundred persons.
Last June, reports were received that demolition of the old synagogue had started during prayer services, and the roof removed. The walls were left standing for a few days after disclosure in the West of the start of demolition. During that period, synagogue officials removed the Torahs, prayerbooks and other religious items which cannot be replaced today in the Soviet Union.