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USSR Hebrew Language Policy Challenged

July 31, 1986
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A recently published TASS interview with a Russian “philologist and Hebraist” seeking to negate “assertions by Western propaganda that Hebrew is banned in the USSR” appears to be an attempt by the Kremlin to blunt international criticism of the Kremlin’s anti-Jewish policies, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center here.

The Center reported that on July 14, the official Soviet news agency published an interview with Elvl Chernin, described as a “Soviet Hebraist.” He asserted in the interview that “representatives of the Jewish nation have never spoken Hebrew, neither in pre-revolutionary Russia nor in the Soviet Union.”

The Tass article went on to quote Chernin as saying that “it is permitted to study any language including, naturally, Hebrew.” He added that Hebrew is being taught “in higher education establishments in Moscow, Leningrad, and Tblisi,” and is “studied in Yeshivas–religious schools attached to synagogues–of which there are about 100 in the Soviet Union.”

Wiesenthal Center associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper, responding to Chernin’s published remarks, said, “In light of the international criticism levelled at the Kremlin’s treatment of Soviet Jewry, it is not surprising that they would try to put the best possible face on its anti-Jewish policy.

“And while it is true that Hebrew is not technically banned in the USSR, the harsh reality is that authorities have made Jews who dare to teach the holy tongue of Judaism and the Bible pay dearly for their efforts. Currently there are no less than 10 Hebrew teachers languishing in Soviet prisons on a variety of trumped up charges, ranging from narcotics possession to violent agitation against the state to hooliganism,” said Cooper.

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