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Rabbi Teitz Differs with Conference on Soviet Jewry on Simhat Torah Demonstrations

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An Orthodox rabbinical friend of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin of Moscow disclosed today that the latter wrote to him requesting him to send a large quantity of religious and ritual items for use in Moscow’s Choral Synagogue. Rabbi Pinchas Teitz, of Elizabeth. N.J., a member of the presidium of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, said that the request from Rabbi Levin is a “symptom” of the “beginning” of a closer relationship between Soviet and American Jewry — one to which the Soviet Government lends its approval.

Rabbi Teitz’s view of developing relations has involved him in a dispute with the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry, an “umbrella” body whose membership consists of 25 major American Jewish organizations representing virtually every facet of this country’s Jewish community. Rabbi Teitz approached Rabbi Israel Miller, outgoing chairman of the Conference, to register his personal opposition and, he claims, the opposition of others to the Simhat Torah demonstrations of solidarity with Russian Jewry which the Conference has planned in 27 cities in the U.S. and Canada. Rabbi Teitz argued that the demonstrations could cause the Soviet Government to consider Simhat Torah gatherings by Russian Jewish youth as a show of solidarity with the American groups. On that basis, he maintained, the Kremlin could “nullify such gatherings, thereby denying Soviet Jews the opportunity to express their Jewish identity.”

Rabbi Teitz said he had been in close contact with Rabbi Levin since the latter’s return to Moscow from a visit to the U.S. last spring and that there had been several signs of a “warming up” of official treatment of Jews. He cited the “warmth” which, he said, a rabbinical mission to Russia headed by Rabbi Wolfe Kelman found in official circles last summer. Rabbi Kelman is executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly of America, the organization of Conservative rabbis.

Rabbi Miller disagreed with Rabbi Teitz’s thesis. He said that “If the Soviet Government wants to build bridges they will do so whether or not demonstrations of solidarity will be held.” He cited developments in Russia since Rabbi Levin’s American visit last summer which, he said, “blotted out” the hopes raised that Russian Jews might be accorded a measure of the rights and freedoms enjoyed by other minorities in the Soviet Union. The Conference has asked the sponsors of the Oct. 13 demonstrations to emphasize their religious character and omit any political motifs.

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