Chief Moscow Rabbi Says Soviet Jews Drawing Closer to Religion

The Chief Rabbi of Moscow said last night that young Jews in the Soviet Union are “drawing closer to religious life” without being pressed to do so.

Rabbi Jacob Fishman, who officiates at Moscow’s Central Synagogue, arrived in the U.S. yesterday as part of a delegation of nine Soviet clergymen, headed by Metropolitan Jubenaly, one of the highest ranking prelates in the Russian Orthodox Church. The delegation, which is in the U.S. for a 10-day visit under the auspices of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, includes another Jew, Adolf Shayovich, a student at the Rabbinical Seminary in Budapest, Hungary.

Answering questions in Yiddish at a news conference for the delegation, Fishman was somewhat vague when asked about freedom of religion for Soviet Jews. He only said: “We have three synagogues in Moscow and people pray there from six in the morning to two in the afternoon. Then we hold services in the evenings.” He said that there are “prayer rooms” in different parts of Moscow where Jews can attend services.

Shayovich, a former engineer who became a rabbinical student, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that there is an “intensified” interest in Judaism among the young Jewish generation. He said that about 10 Jews are studying in the Moscow Jewish Seminary and seven in Budapest. Fishman said that during his visit here he hopes to observe Jewish religious life and “to strengthen ties with our Jewish brothers.” On Thursday evening he will be a guest at a reception in New York to be attended by Jewish leaders.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation and rabbi of the Park East Synagogue, and the Foundation’s two vice-presidents, Dr. David H.C. Read, minister of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, and Rev. Thurston N. Davis, S.J. of the Department of Communication, United States Catholic Conference, declared in a joint statement that the religious delegation will be introduced to the leaders, practices and institutions of their faiths in America “to introduce them to a cross section of the religious life of our people.”

CLERICS RAPPED AS FUNCTIONARIES

In a statement issued today. Stanley Lowell, chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said that Fishman and the other clergymen were “functionaries” of the Soviet government which denies religious and cultural freedom to Jews. He noted that Fishman has attacked the desire of Soviet Jews to emigrate and has been silent about Soviet anti-Semitism and the harassment of Jews, the quota system for Jews in the universities and the denial of their cultural and religious rights.

In addition, Lowell stated, Fishman is the rabbi “for the only functioning synagogue in Moscow and regrettably is the only rabbi among 60 synagogues remaining in the Soviet Union to serve a Jewish population in excess of three million. This is stark evidence of the minimal nature of Jewish religious life in the Soviet Union. Sadly, Rabbi Fishman cannot and will not do anything to improve this deplorable situation.”

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