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Soviet Agency Says Simchat Torah Observance Was ‘folk Custom’, Not Religious

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The official Soviet overseas propaganda news agency conceded today that great numbers of young Moscow Jews had participated in the dancing and singing that marked the end of Simchat Torah but asserted that they came out, not in observance of religious practices, but as participants in a folk custom.

The Novosti Press Agency, in a dispatch signed by Samuel Rosin, a Novosti correspondent, distributed here today by the Soviet Embassy, said that large crowds had danced in the Moscow streets last Saturday night, but “nobody prayed” and the Jewish community was looking forward to the celebration next Sunday of the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.

(A Soviet official denied today, at a Moscow press conference, reports from the West that the Soviet Union has failed to provide adequate synagogue and other religious facilities for Soviet Jews. Yustas Patetskis, chairman of one of the two chambers of the Supreme Soviet, told the press that Jews in Russia “have every opportunity to have an appropriate number of synagogues.” He asserted that the church is separated from state in the USSR “and manages its own affairs.” He sought to debunk as western propaganda recent charges that Soviet Jews lack not only synagogues but also facilities for training rabbis. However, the only Jewish theological seminary in the Soviet Union, that under the direction of Moscow Chief Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin, has no students at the present time.)

The Novosti correspondent said he had interviewed Chief Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin, who told him that the recent holidays had passed “in the best possible manner.” There were days, according to the interview, “when many people gathered in front of the synagogue and nothing hindered them. In these cases, the militia, at our request, closed traffic along the street.”

DANCING IN THE STREETS HAS BECOME A NON-RELIGIOUS CUSTOM. NOVOSTI SAYS

The Novosti correspondent commented that “according to ancient tradition, the Torah is solemnly honored within the synagogue. However, the main festivities are here, in the street, brightly lit up by specially arranged spotlights. The entire street, from end to end, was crowded by people of various ages. Many entire families had come here. Nobody prayed.”

Rosin added that “I am sure that those who had come here had not said a single prayer throughout their life. Simply, it has become a tradition on this day when religious Jews – their fathers and, to be more exact, their grandfathers – praise the holy Torah within the synagogue. They enjoy themselves here in the street with the temperament and cheerfulness characteristic of the youth.”

The correspondent said that “the holiday lasted until late in the evening. There was singing and dancing to the accompaniment of an amateur orchestra. Jewish folk dances such as freilachs and sher were followed by a Russian round dance and a Georgian lezginka. Just as popular as Jewish songs were well-known songs by Soviet composers.”

The report sought to give the impression that only the elderly came to the synagogue to observe the holidays religiously, while the younger people came only to dance and sing. It quoted the Chief Rabbi as saying that next Sunday – the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution – is “our great red-letter day which the entire community will worthily mark.”

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