The seven — four women and three men — began attending the Moscow Rabbinic Leadership Institute, also known as Machon, earlier this month, the World Union for Progressive Judaism said in a statement Thursday.
Operating at Moscow’s Russian State University for the Humanities — which helped set up Machon in partnership with the union and the Abraham Geiger College — the institute is designed to address the current lack in Reform rabbis in the former Soviet Union, the union’s president, Daniel Freelander, said.
Currently, only six Russian-speaking Reform rabbis serve the entire region, where more than half a million Jews live, according to Freelander. “We need so many more, and some are approaching retirement age,” he wrote. Machon, he added, may allow for the ordination of three to four Russian-speaking Reform rabbis annually and “grow the professional leadership of all our congregations in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.”
After four years, students will receive a bachelor’s degree in Jewish studies, facilitated by the Geiger College in Potsdam. But those ordained as rabbis will be the students who will opt to continue to study for a master’s degree in Jewish theology from the University of Potsdam in Germany, the World Union said.
Some expenses, including tuition and housing costs, will be covered for participants by the union, though a third of the program’s cost will be paid by the students.
In Ukraine, which, according to the European Jewish Congress, has 380,000 Jews — the largest Jewish population in the former Soviet space – the Reform movement’s membership of several hundred Jews is significantly smaller than that of Orthodox communities run by Chabad and other rabbis.