Jakobovits Attacked for His View About Situation of Soviet Jewry
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Jakobovits Attacked for His View About Situation of Soviet Jewry

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Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits of Britain has come under sharp attack by leaders of Soviet-Jewish emigre groups here and strong, if muted, criticism in official circles for his remarks following a nine-day visit to the Soviet Union last month that there was reason to be hopeful that the situation of Jews there would improve.

Activists, such as Prof. Alexander Voronel head of the Soviet Immigrants Aliya. Committee, claimed the Chief Rabbi had been taken in by clever Soviet propaganda. He said a comment attributed to Jakobovits that there was no large-scale anti-Semitism in the USSR was a sign of naivete and he took issue with the rabbi’s statement in a Jerusalem Post interview that life was better for Soviet Jews now than under the Czars or Stalin.

Voronel claimed that all of the so-called improvements listed by the Chief Rabbi were achieved by Soviet Jews 40 years ago and that since then they had made no progress and suffered reverses. He also claimed that anti-Semitism was rampant in the USSR, much of it officially inspired.

Yehezkel Polarvich, head of the “Association of ex-Prisoners of Zion,” charged that Jakobovits’ visit had “done terrible damage to the cause” of Soviet Jewry and said that as far as Judaism and Zionism are concerned, Stalinism still reigns in Russia.


Official circles here noted that the Chief Rabbi, the first spiritual leader of a Western Jewish community to visit the USSR in an official capacity, had met only middle-echelon Soviet officials and that the impressions he received appeared to be “superficial.” They suggested that the accounts of Jews who lived in the Soviet Union and were intimately familiar with the system were more valid than the statements by relatively minor officials.

Jakobovits, in a special interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in London last month, acknowledged that “I am not an expert after nine days and I only met 1000 out of millions of Jews, but the situation is more complex and the dimensions more acute than one imagines.” He told the JTA that “the circumstances of Soviet Jewry…are much more complex than the simplistic view taken by so many here ” (in Britain). He said his meeting with Soviet officials “gave us reason to be hopeful” and suggested that “there is a need for thorough and careful reappraisal of attitudes and priorities.”


Aliya activists here were especially incensed by remarks by Jakobovits in a London Jewish Chronicle interview published last Friday that he was “able to report that Col. Ovehinikov, deputy head of the Ovir (visa bureau) had…assured (him) that 98.6 percent of all emigration applications had been granted and that the remaining 1.4 percent would not be a permanent group, thus indicating that the present ‘refusniks’ too would sooner or later be allowed to leave.”

The aliya circles here claimed that the figures were preposterous but went unchallenged by the Chief Rabbi. They claimed that the Soviet authorities approve no more than one-third of the visa applications submitted each month and maintained that despite rising harassment, the level of applications has not fallen off. They said that well over 100,000 visa applications pending have been refused.

The vehemence of the attacks on the credibility of Jakobovits’ report of his Soviet visit can be attributed at least in part to the British Chief Rabbi’s frequent assertions that efforts for aliya from the USSR must be equalled by efforts to secure the religious and civil rights of Jews who will remain in the USSR.

Coming at a time when Soviet Jewish emigration is at the lowest point since 1972 and when an estimated 40 percent of Jews leaving the Soviet Union head for countries other than Israel, this is an extremely sensitive matter here. It may account for the fact that the activists, whose often uncompromising attitudes have been shunned by the official establishment, are now enjoying a large measure of understanding and support in official circles with respect to Jakobovits’ views.

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