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USSR Seen Having 62 Synagogues Now Against 400 Reported in 1960

An intensive survey by the Institute of East European Jewish Affairs at Brandeis University here, reported today, lists “at least” 62 functioning synagogues in the entire Soviet Union. The survey noted that, in 1960, a Soviet official had stated there were at that time 400 synagogues in the USSR, serving 500,000 “practicing Jews.” An edition of a Soviet informational handbook, distributed last fall, gave the number of synagogues in the USSR as 97.

The listing of 62 present synagogues, according to an Institute report, was compiled from varied sources, in the face of Soviet reluctance to reveal the precise number of synagogues in the USSR, and despite divergent figures that have emanated from official Soviet sources. The report said the listing does not purport to be exhaustive, because of the difficulty in obtaining accurate information. “It is possible that some synagogues have escaped our net,” the report stated, “but their number is unlikely to be great.” The listing is the initial part of a comprehensive study of the state of the Jewish religion in the Soviet Union, undertaken by the Institute.

The completion of the study on a subject about which information is scarce will take many months, said the Institute’s director, Prof. Erich Goldhagen. But in the meantime, he said, “to meet the great need for knowledge about the conditions of Jews in the Soviet Union, we are communicating some of our findings to the interested public, laymen and scholars alike.”

The institute, a component of Brandeis’ Philip W. Lown School of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, was established last year to increase the fund of basic information on the circumstances of some 3,000,000 Jews living in East Europe. It is the first research program of its kind under academic auspices.

“The Soviet government cannot have but full knowledge of all legally constituted synagogues functioning in the Soviet Union, since every religious body is required by law to register with the authorities,” the report stated. “But instead of disclosing the figure, Soviet officials have at various times given widely-differing numbers.”

The Soviet figures are not only contradictory but also greater than the actual number of synagogues, the report stated. “Here we shall not seek to answer the question of why the Soviet government has withheld from us the true number of synagogues,” said the report. “Is it because it wanted to conceal from the world the true state of organized Jewish religion in the Soviet Union? At the present state of our knowledge, answers to this question will remain speculative.”

The report, prepared by Joshua Rothenberg, research fellow at the Institute, also listed the three principal types of Jewish religious associations in the Soviet Union: These are: “Religious Societies” occupying synagogues leased to them by the state: “groups of believers” licensed by the government, which the Jews call “legal Minyanim”; and unregistered prayer groups called “illegal Minyanim.”

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