If one were to create a list of the great European learning centers, Moscow would probably not be on it. After the establishment of the Soviet Communist regime, Jewish life was systematically oppressed, as the Communists viewed all religion as the “opiate of the masses.” It is therefore surprising to note that in 1956, during the premiership of Nikita Khrushchev, the opening of a rabbinical seminary in Moscow was announced.
The founding of this institute demonstrates that while the Soviet regime disdained religion, it recognized that it was unlikely that all citizens of the Soviet Union were going to shed their beliefs. It was therefore in the government’s best interest to involve itself with the religious institutions.
Kol Ya’akov Yeshiva, which opened in January 1957, was situated at the Moscow Choral Synagogue. The first rector was the synagogue’s rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Shlifer, who passed away later that year. The government allowed Rabbi Shlifer to access religious books and to create a kosher kitchen. He raised additional funds to produce a new prayerbook, Siddur Ha’shalom (The Peace Prayerbook), of which between 2,000 and 3,000 were published and sold to Soviet communities.
In order to study in Kol Ya’akov Yeshiva, students had to be approved by the Council for the Affairs of Religious Cults. Many students were afraid to apply, others were rejected. The first class had ten students, and there were never more than 20 students enrolled. The majority of these students came from the Soviet Republic of Georgia, to which they promised to return. Students often had difficulty obtaining permission to reside in Moscow and were unable to complete their studies. The last five students attended the institution in 1962.
*Bibliographical Notation: Much of the information for this Treat was obtained from http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org – YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.
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