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U.S. Rabbis See Grim Prospects for Survival of Judaism in Russia

August 12, 1966
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Grim prospects for the survival of Jewish cultural and religious life in the Soviet Union were expressed here today by spokesmen for a delegation of 22 members of the Central Conference of American Rabbis who returned last week from a visit to Russia, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

The report on the study mission of the Reform rabbinical group was made at a press conference here by Rabbi George V. Lieberman of Rockville Center, Rabbi Ely E. Pilchik of Newark and Rabbi Sidney L. Regner, executive vice-president of the CCAR, Rabbi Jacob J. Weinstein, CCAR president who addressed the press conference by phone from Chicago, stressed that the report was a consensus of the delegation and did not represent the official views of the organization.

Asserting that the Soviet authorities “have almost triumphed in their battle against organized religion,” Rabbi Lieberman, the only Russian-speaking member of the group, said that the Soviet Jewish community particularly was beset with “fear, loneliness and isolation, inequality, ignorance and decline.”

Noting that individual Russian Jews displayed fear and tension when speaking with members of the delegation, Rabbi Lieberman said that Russian Jews were suffering of isolation from their coreligionist and were the victims of discrimination especially in the field of Jewish culture.


The delegation spokesmen said that the synagogues in Russia “were the gathering places for the old, the halt and the retired pensioners.” While, in addition to the “synagogue Jews,” there were small numbers of “cultural Jews,” Rabbi Pilchik said that the vast majority were “invisible Jews” who had little or no contact with Jewish life.

During their visit to Vilna, the delegation members were shown several rooms full of Torah scrolls, numerous volumes of the Talmud and other rabbinic and scholarly Jewish books which had been rescued from the Nazis by a Lithuanian priest and deposited in a synagogue after the war where they are still being stored. The delegation spokesmen said that local Jews had sought to find out if the books could be removed so that they could be preserved and used by Jewish communities elsewhere.

The spokesmen reported that an official of the Soviet Ministry of Cults had told them that 5,000 of the 10,000 Jewish prayer books which the Government promised would be printed, would be ready momentarily with the remainder due to be printed by the end of this month.


“We gained the strong impression,” the delegation spokesmen added, “that anti-Semitism in the USSR has not been uprooted. On the contrary, it is now on the increase. The official policy of the Government is that anti-Semitism is a crime against the state. We strongly urge the USSR to implement this official policy as a matter of highest priority.”

While the Christian communities seemed to show less tension and self consciousness than Russian Jews, Rabbi Pilchik said that he thought there was little difference between the difficulties which the Jews and other communities were suffering in the area of religion.

In the cultural field, however, it was the consensus of the delegation members that “strictures and limitations were placed on the development of Jewish culture which were not true of other nationality groups such as the Ukrainian or the Lithuanian or the Georgian.”

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