NEW YORK (Feb. 23)
— The Judaic Studies Center, the first institution of its kind in the Soviet Union in 60 years, opened officially in Moscow on Wednesday.
Its founding father, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a world-famous Talmudic scholar from Jerusalem, welcomed the first class of 80 students enrolled in the three-year course of study.
Messages were read from Israeli President Chaim Herzog and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker.
“We welcome the changes in the Soviet Union which have led to this center being established,” Baker said, “and we will look forward to hearing of your further progress.”
The center, located in a facility of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, is affiliated with the Academy of World Civilization, established by the academy’s vice chairman, Evgeny Velikhov.
It is however, an independent institution, funded by the New York-based Aleph Society, a private, non-profit organization that supports Steinsaltz’s worldwide educational activities.
The center, located at 16 Kropotkinskaya Street, will train a new generation of rabbis, scholars and teachers to minister to the needs of Soviet Jews.
It is the first rabbinical seminary in the USSR since formal religious education was banned by the Bolsheviks in 1917.
Steinsaltz credited the historic policy changes in the Soviet Union for the center’s existence.
He stressed that the Soviet authorities have affirmed the sole responsibility of the Aleph Society to select students and faculty and prescribe curriculum and study materials.
“The tremendous interest among Soviet Jews in the opening of the Judaic Studies Center is like the prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled: ‘The children you thought you had lost shall say to you… make room for me to enter,’ ” Steinsaltz said.
The initial student body, selected by Steinsaltz, will attend day and evening classes for the next seven weeks.
Four American and Israeli rabbis and scholars comprise the faculty for the first semester.