NEW YORK (Nov. 18)
Expressions of sympathy over the death yesterday of Chief Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin of Moscow continued to be issued last night and today by American Jewish leaders. Rabbi Irving Lehrman of Miami Beach, president of the Synagogue Council of America, said Rabbi Levin “held his office under trying and tragic circumstances. We pray that there will be a successor to his post whose ministry will usher in a new era of religious freedom for the Jewish community in the Soviet Union and that they will be given the opportunity to establish fraternal bonds with Jewish communities in other parts of the world.”
B’nai B’rith president David M. Blumberg, in a cable to Moscow’s Choral Synagogue, said he “respected Rabbi Levin’s efforts, under severely difficult conditions, to sustain the synagogue and religious observances in Soviet Jewish life.” Rabbi Bernard L. Berzon, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, said “Russian Jewry has lost its major rabbinic and religious leader,” resulting in “a loss not only to Russian Jewry but to world Jewry as a whole.”
Rabbi Berzon said Rabbi Levin was both a “tragic” and a “heroic” figure–“Tragic because…he often had to make statements defending the actions of the Russian government…heroic…because he realized that in periods of oppression, the need for leadership is greatest (and) he fulfilled that role nobly.”
10 PRACTICING RABBIS LEFT
The question of Rabbi Levin’s successor remained uncertain today. There are no more than 10 practicing rabbis left in the Soviet Union, it is estimated, only two of them are in the European portion of the country–Rabbi Chaim Lubanov of Leningrad, who is 91, and Rabbi Israel Schwartzblatt of Odessa, who is in his late 50s. Rabbi Lubanov’s concern for his congregants has gained him a reputation as “a saint,” but he has become enfeebled and isolated from the Jewish community because of the congregants’ fear of reprisals. Rabbi Schwartzblatt ousted G.I. Mizrachi as rabbi of Odessa for being, as one source put it. “too Jewish.”
On March 3, 1970, an article titled “Shame On The Invaders And Slanderers,” published by Izvestia, the Soviet government newspaper, condemned “international Zionist circles” for being “reactionary” and “spreading evil and calumny” about the Soviet State. The article was signed by various Jewish figures who called themselves “religious leaders and not politicians.” They included Rabbis Levin, Lubanov and Schwartzblatt.
THIRTEENTH GENERATION RABBI
One of nine children, Yehuda Leib Levin was a descendant of 13 generations of rabbis. He was born in Lithuania in February, 1894, to Rabbi Ilya Nuesinovich Levin, who died in 1908, and his wife, who was killed by the Nazis in 1942. Another son was killed at Stalingrad. Yehuda Leib Levin studied at the Yeshiva Knesset Beit Yitzhak near Kovno, Lithuania; served in the infantry of the Imperial Army during 1915-17, and returned to further rabbinical studies in Kovno in 1917-19. Rabbi Levin’s first pulpit was in Grushino, the Ukraine, where he remained until the Nazi invasion of 1941, when his family was evacuated to a collective farm in Uzbekistan.
When the Ukraine was liberated in November, 1944, the Levins returned to Grushino, renamed Krasno Armeiskoye, and in 1946 Yehuda Levin took over the rabbinical leadership of Dniepopetrovsk, White Russia, serving there for 10 years. In January, 1957, he was invited by Rabbi Sohleifer to be rector of the Yeshiva Kol Yaacov seminary In Moscow, succeeding Rabbi Schleifer three months later on the latter’s death. Shortly thereafter, Rabbi Levin became spiritual leader of Moscow’s Central (Choral) Synagogue. (By 1962, the class at Yeshiva Kol Yaacov had dwindled to six students.) In 1968 Rabbi Levin published his own translation of a siddur.