KIEV, Ukraine (May. 6)
In another sign of the rebirth of Jewish life in the post-Communist age, the rabbis of Ukraine announced this week they are forming an official rabbinate.
Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, the chief rabbi of Ukraine, explained that the forming of the rabbinate will “help to strengthen religious life in the country, first and foremost through education, as well as building lasting institutions in Ukraine.”
The formation of a Beth Din, a religious court, was also announced. Rabbi Yitzhak Yoffe of Kharkov, the oldest rabbi in Ukraine, was elected as its honorary president.
It is hoped that the formation of the Beth Din will help resolve some of the questions arising as a result of the lack of rabbinical marriages and divorces under the Communist regime.
Both announcements were made Tuesday at a conference of the Union of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine, a major umbrella group representing the estimated 500,000 Jews of Ukraine.
As it stands now, the rabbinate has 16 members representing 11 cities throughout the country. The main priorities of the body will be coordinating education programs, both for adults and children, overseeing the production of kosher food products, organizing Hevra Kadisha burial societies as well as working to encourage emigration to Israel.
Since 1989, tens of thousands of Jews have emigrated from Ukraine. Though over 1,000 Jews a month are still immigrating to Israel, the rabbinate hopes to discourage the growing immigration to Germany and the United States.
Meanwhile, the Union of Jewish Religious Organizations has also increased its activities. It was established last November in an attempt to bring order to the proliferation of Jewish groups formed since the downfall of the Communist regime.
Today the union and the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine are the country’s two most influential Jewish umbrella groups.
PROPERTY RESTITUTION A PRIORITY
Earlier this year, in conjunction with the Canadian Foundation for the Education and Welfare of Jews in the Soviet Union, the union successfully distributed over 100 tons of matzah and other food products for Passover to every Jewish community in Ukraine.
The union has also helped to arrange the procurement of religious articles for communities and individuals and financial help for smaller communities.
At the union’s conference this week, a program was presented concerning the restitution of the hundreds of synagogues and other communal Jewish property confiscated by the Communist government.
The Ukrainian government has so far returned only a small fraction of the buildings, but has promised the return of all such property.
Vladimir Maslov, a lawyer working with the union on this program, has requested that all communities make a list of the property confiscated, so that it can be presented to the government.
Maslov, referring to both the law passed by the Parliament and the presidential decree concerning confiscated property, expressed hope that the problem would be resolved by year’s end.
The governing board of the union also discussed the need for Jewish chaplains in the Ukrainian armed forces and the formation of a Jewish Officers Club, both of which were not possible under the Soviet government.
It was also announced that the Jewish communities of Drugobich and Chelnitsky have paired with sister congregations in Manchester, England and Colmar, France, respectively.