NEW YORK (Jun. 1)
An unprecedented easing of restrictions on Jewish religious and cultural life in the Soviet Union is well under way, according to the Soviet-appointed Chief Rabbi of Moscow, Adolph Shayevich. He is the only Jew visiting the U.S. as part of a delegation of religious figures from the USSR, invited by the United Church of Christ.
Shayevich, who spoke at a breakfast Sunday for Jewish leaders given by Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, said a new self-employment law that went into effect May I will permit private teachers, including Hebrew teachers, to hold classes for groups of students, and earn income.
Hebrew teaching in fact has been outlawed in the Soviet Union, but has occurred clandestinely, and many Hebrew teachers have been arrested in recent years.
According to Shayevich, who is rabbi of Moscow’s Chorale Synagogue, there was “warm response” in the Jewish community to plans for a kosher restaurant to be opened in the Soviet capital by the end of the year, next door to his synagogue. He said the synagogue would operate the restaurant.
“Another sign of ‘glasnost’,” the new Soviet policy of openness, Shayevich said, was the repairs and restoration now being made to the mikveh (ritual bath) attached to the Marina Roscha synagogue in Moscow.
He said the Moscow Jewish community was concerned last year when the mikveh was closed. Jewish spokesmen here raised the matter with Konstantin Kharchev, chairman of the Council of Religious Affairs of the USSR Council of Ministers, when he visited New York last October.
Shayevich said the repairs were well under way when he left Moscow last month and he expected the mikveh to be functioning within the next few weeks.
Another positive development, according to Shayevich, was the permission granted by Soviet authorities to permit the delivery of 5,000 copies of a Hebrew-Russian Pentateuch by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation to Moscow in time for Shavuot, June 3-4. Shayevich said the books were cleared through customs with Kharchev’s help. Schneier made arrangements for the shipment with Kharchev.
Shayevich said the synagogue is selling the books for 10 rubles (about $9) to members and will make them available to other synagogues in the USSR for 3-5 rubles each.
Shayevich said he was “hopeful for the future” but cautioned that “glasnost is a process that will take time to have its full effects.”
Schneier disclosed that two more Soviet students have been admitted to the Rabbinical Seminary in Budapest, the only one in Eastern Europe, where one will study to be a shochet (ritual slaughterer) and the other a chazan (cantor). Both will serve the Moscow synagogue, Schneier said.