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Rabbi Jacob Fishman Dead at 70

Jacob Fishman, who served as rabbi of Moscow’s central synagogue since May, 1972, died of a heart attack last Saturday at his home in Moscow at the age of 70, Tass, the official Soviet news agency reported today. He had been in poor health for several years.

Fishman, born in Slutzk, Poland, attended a Moscow rabbinical school but was never formally ordained. The school no longer exists. His first wife and children perished in the Holocaust. Fishman reportedly officiated at provincial synagogues in the USSR until 1964. He was a factory worker when he was selected to replace the late Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin, who died in November, 1971, as rabbi of the central or Choral Synagogue. As it is the only Jewish house of worship in the Soviet capital, he was designated Chief Rabbi of Moscow.

Jewish organizations in contact with Soviet Jewry generally considered Fishman to be a docile instrument of Soviet policy. According to press reports today, he recently sent a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow protesting the regular visits of an Embassy official to talk to Soviet Jewish activists and dissidents who congregate outside the synagogue to exchange information.

The letter, signed by Fishman, reportedly complained that the visits were “humiliating for genuinely believing Jews” because the U.S. official, James Glenn, a Second Secretary at the Embassy, is non-Jewish and many of the Jewish activists are non-believers. He claimed Glenn sought to find out which Jews were asking to emigrate and whether they were being persecuted. Fishman’s letter drew a sharp retort from U.S. Ambassador Arthur Hartman, who called the rabbi’s charges “unfounded and factually false.”

VISITED U.S. IN 1971

Fishman made his first and only visit to the U.S. in 1976 as part of a delegation of nine Soviet clergymen headed by Metropolitan Jubenaly, a high ranking prelate of the Russian Orthodox Church. The visit was sponsored by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, headed by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, rabbi of the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan.

(At the time of his visit, Fishman said in a press interview, “Things will get better” for Soviet Jews, “things have gotten better in the last 15 years. If there is peace, we can send young people here (to the U.S. to study at seminaries) and we have others to send.”

(Schneier told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in New York today that Fishman cooperated fully with the arrangements negotiated years ago by Schneier, to have young Soviet Jews seeking careers in the rabbinate attend the rabbinical seminary in Budapest, the only such institution in the Communist bloc countries. Fishman’s associate rabbi in Moscow, Adolf Shayevich, was ordained by the Budapest seminary. According to Schneier, he is likely to succeed Fishman at the Moscow synagogue.)

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