NEW YORK (Feb. 10)
Religious Judaism in the Soviet Union is dying, although the Christian churches “face the future with confidence, ” it was reported here today by an interfaith group that has just returned from a fact-finding visit to Moscow and Leningrad.
The group consisted of Rabbi Arthur Schneier, of Congregation Zichron Ephraim, New York, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation; Dr. Harold A. Bosley, minister of Christ Church Methodist; former Brooklyn Congressman Francis E. Dorn, who is a Christian; the Rev. Thurston N. Davis and the Rev. Eugene K. Culhane. The latter are Jesuits. Father Davis is editor-in-chief of the Jesuit weekly, America, while Father Culhane is managing editor of that Catholic publication.
Of three promises for the alleviation of the situation of Soviet Jews, made by Soviet authorities last summer to a delegation of American rabbis, only one is being carried out in part, the interfaith delegation stated. That promise concerned freedom to bake matzoh for next Tassover. They said that matzoh is now being baked in Moscow and Leningrad only, but there seems to be no evidence that other Soviet Jewish communities will have matzoh there year.
A second promise was that the yeshiva in Moscow would be reopened. The clergymen said they saw no evidence whatever that the yeshiva is functioning. The third promise involved publication of 10, 000 Hebrew prayer books. The clergymen reported that those prayer books have not yet been printed although they obtained an indication that the prayer books may be printed in the near future.
JEWISH LEADERSHIP IN RUSSIA REPORTED FEARING REPRISALS
One reason for the plight of religious Jewry in the USSR, the delegates agreed, is “fear on the part of the Jewish leadership. ” The Christian churches “are in good shape, they said, because the Greek Orthodox Church in the USSR, the Baptists, and the Roman Catholics continually press for privileges granted them under Government “guidelines. ” But the Jewish leaders, they declared, “are afraid of reprisals.”
“What I saw of the condition of Soviet Jewry, ” said Father Davis, “worries me very profoundly.” Rev. Bosley added: “The Soviet Jews, with an 800-year-old history of anti-Semitism from czarist days to the eras of Stalin and Khrushchev, are afraid. The Orthodox and the Baptists are vigorous. The Jewish group is much more careful. They either cannot or are not willing to press for implementation of the Government’s guidelines laid down for all religions. The Jewish leaders would have to fight, they would have to push for their privileges. They are not doing so.”
“Religion in general, ” said Rabbi Schneier, “is neither dying nor dead. But Soviet Jewry is dying. The other religions have young leadership. The Jewish leadership is old and operates in an atmosphere of fear. ” Rabbi Schneier reported that he had been permitted by Soviet authorities to deliver a Sabbath sermon in the Moscow Central Synagogue, where he assured the 700 worshipers present that Jews abroad are aware of their difficulties. He stressed American Jewish solidarity with Soviet Jewry.