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Moscow Rabbi Reported Surrounded by Suspected Government Agents

February 18, 1966
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Moscow’s Chief Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin is always surrounded when he is visited by foreigners, by men suspected of being Soviet Government agents, two prominent Catholic writers, who visited Moscow recently, declared here today. The report on that facet of Soviet Jewish religious life, among others, was made by the Rev; Thurston N. Davis and the Rev; Eugene K. Culhane, Jesuit priests. Father Davis is editor-in-chief of America, a Jesuit weekly, while Father Culhane is the publication’s managing editor.

The priests were members of an interfaith delegation that went to Moscow and Leningrad last month to seek information on Soviet Jewish religious life. All the members of the group represented the Appeal to Conscience Foundation. Among the members of the delegation was one Jew, Rabbi Arthur Schneier, of Congregation Zichron Ephraim, of New York, The report by the priests was printed in today’s issue of America.

Reporting in general that there is “little to contradict the charge of Soviet anti-Semitism, ” the priests stated that Soviet Jewish leaders live in fear of government reprisals. Regarding statements issued by Jewish leaders in the USSR, reportedly “more obsequious to the government than those of other religious communities,” they stated.

“If the Chief Rabbi of Moscow is the one who signs such statements, our guess is that these statements are written for him by others, probably by the minor lay officials who are officers of his synagogue and who surround him like a bodyguard. The Chief Rabbi can rarely be visited in privacy. His lay committeemen close in on him when a visitor arrives, and inject themselves into the conversation. The little that he was free to tell us about the conditions of Jewish life was carefully tailored to the sensibilities of his lay admonitors.”

“One possible key to the plight of the Jews in the Soviet Union, ” the priests declared, “lies in what was to us the ominous activity of the lay committeemen who surround the aging rabbis. It is difficult to believe that these salaried laymen are not government agents.”

Fathers Davis and Culhane also revealed, for the first time, that the delegation was forbidden to see Rabbi Levin when they wanted to talk to him on a second visit to Moscow, after returning to the Soviet capital from Leningrad. They said they were told Rabbi Levin was ill in a hospital and “in quarantine, ” and that the lay officers of his synagogue would not reveal his whereabouts. Finally, they reported, Rabbi Schneider was permitted to talk to Rabbi Levin by telephone. “The Chief Rabbi,” stated the priests, “said that he was doing all he could in the situation, that he was not free to say where he was, and that he sent regards to his brethren in the United States.”

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