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First Report on Moscow Yeshivah Gives Details About Its Students

September 10, 1957
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A report on the Yeshivah, school for Orthodox rabbis, recently opened in Moscow at the Great Synagogue there, appears in the current issue of “Jewish Life,” published by the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America. The report was written by Gottfried Neuburger, following a recent visit to Moscow. Mr. Neuburger, who has visited the Soviet Union on several occasions on business, supplied the first account by an American of the development of the Yeshivah and the composition and personality of its students.

“Moscow’s Great Synagogue,” he reported, “has a brand new coat of paint. But something much more important has been added. The former Sukkah in the courtyard now houses the new Yeshivath Kol Yaakov. And a new little building, half brick and half wood, has been erected where the kitchen and dining room are located. For anyone who has visited Moscow before, it is a most wonderful surprise to see the Bachurim (students) learn during all hours of the day; to hear them sing Zemiroth on Friday evening or during Seudan Shelishith is an unforgettable experience. The establishment of the Yeshivah and the printing of the ‘Siddur Hasholom’ are the crowning achievements of the late Rabbi Solomon Schliffer. Both were accomplished shortly before his death.

“The rabbi who had been selected to lead the Yeshivah, Rabbi Leib Levin from Dnepropretovsk, has now succeeded Rabbi Schliffer as chief rabbi of Moscow but remains also as head of the school, which is now seven months old. He has a most impressive staff of instructors to assist him in this task. Rav Shimon Trebnik, a pupil of the Chofetz Chayim during World War I when the latter lived in Snovsk in White Russia, is well known to American rabbinical leaders. He combines deep wisdom and learning with a keen sense of humor that makes it easy to win the hearts of younger people. Equally learned is Rav Chaim Katz from Politzk, formerly rabbi in Mistislev in White Russia. A special instructor in the subjects of Milah and Schechitah is the young but inspired Yaakov Kalmanson, like the Chief Rabbi formerly of Dnepropretovsk.

“A complete schedule is posted in the Yeshivah listing the exact hours and subjects for each student. The students are divided into three groups of three, five and nine, respectively. Others learn individually. The hours of instruction are from 10-2 and from 3-7. At the moment the Yeshivah has a total of 19 students, who come from all parts of the Soviet Union. The youngest of them are 19 years old. (A Christian monastery training school in the Soviet Union is accepting pupils from the age of 12, but, generally speaking, school instruction in religious subjects is not allowed below the age of 18.) When I talked to the students about their home town, I found that statistics were not precise. I had to raise my eyebrows, for instance, when one student informed me that there were ‘300 Baale Battim and 10,000 Jews.’ After I called his attention to the fact that his figures would require the average Jewish family to consist of 30 members, he retracted and said, ‘well, maybe there are only 1,000 Jews.’


“I was somewhat handicapped because the eight young men from ‘Gruzie’ (Georgia) did not understand Yiddish. There was Zodek Dorrman from Tashkent in Uzbekistan (Central Asia) who told me that there were four synagogues there. Zodek is only 19 but he related proudly that he had been the chess champion of Tashkent. Also from Uzbekistan, from the very ancient Jewish community of Bokharia, comes Yakov Chaimov, 20 years old. Three students arrived from the Ukrainian cities of Charkov and Lutzk, and Riga (Latvia) is represented by two students. Only four students are Muscovites.

“Perhaps the most colorful group are the ‘Gruzim.’ Several of them sport the moustache that is the landmark of the true Georgian. Shalom and Yitzchak come from Kutais where, they reported, are 8,000 Jewish families. Yitzchak is a language expert; the only English word that he knows is ‘onion.’ Aron’s home is Poti (300 Jewish families), and I really was delighted at the way he learned a ‘Blatt Gemoro’; there is Yitzchak from Panza and Joseph from Achaltyche. I would have liked to visit Gavriel’s home town of Kulashi in the mountains of the Caucasus because he told me that they had 10,000 Jews there and only three non-Jewish families. The others are from Georgia’s capital, Tiflis: another Yitzchak, another Joseph and another Gavriel.

“The students include bachelors and married men. All stages of learning are represented. Most of them are quite advanced and several undoubtedly are outstanding Talmidey Chachomim (scholars). On the other hand, one of the boys told me that circumstances had not permitted him to learn previously and so he started to learn Aleph-Beth three months ago. Regardless of the motivation that led to the granting of permission to open Moscow’s Kol Yaakov Yeshivah, it is welcome duty to report that the standard of learning and practice there is on a high level and one can only hope that this small beginning will lead to larger developments in the future.”

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