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September 08, 1967 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1967-09-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Soviet Officials Attack 'Barbaric Ritual'

(Continued from Page 1)
At certain times, the govern-
ment uses the matter of circum-
cision as a spearpoint to strike
at the whole crumbling structure
of the Jewish religion. A typical
instance of this is what happened
to Schechter, the circumciser of
In Chernovtsy (capital of Buko-

vina. which was once part of Ro-
mania, and was annexed after the
tear to the Soviet Ukraine) there
are today about seventy thousand
Jews. comprising approximately
half of the city's population. The
Jewish community of Chernovtsy
was once famous for its flourishing
religious and secular institutions.
but at the time of the Schechter
incident in 1959, only two small
synagogues remained.

A young Jewish couple was
blessed with a male child. The
parents, like most local Jews, had
been reared in the Jewish tradi-
tion, and wanted their son to he
circumcised. (No one, of course.
thought of making it the festive
occasion it traditionally is, a most
inadvisable idea). They turned to
Schechter, one of those who clan-
destinely performed such ceremo-
nies in the community. He came
and circumcised the baby. Some
days later, the mother was fright-
ened when the baby bled. The
father tried to locate Schechter,
but he was not in town that day,
having gone somewhere else to

performed these barbaric rituals
for decades, that this was his live-
lihood and he could do no other
constructive work. However, he
did not appreciate until this inci
dent how vile his profession had
been. But now, after it had all
been explained to him, he was
convinced that the operations he
had performed on these babies
were not only illicit but also op-
posed to advanced Soviet medicine.
Ile promised the assembled aud-
ience that he would never again go
back to this occupation and he
. appealed to all the young parents
not to he led astray by primitive
religious symbolism and not to
place their children in the polluted
hands of circumcisers.

Finally, to inject a bit of variety
into this "evening of Jewish cul-
ture." the organizers introduced a
pair of "expatriates" from Israel
(the authorities hold in readiness
"local color teams" of Israeli
"expatriates" who speak occa-
sionally over the radio, television,
or at lectures, to tell the "whole
truth about Israel"). They related
that they had lived a year in Israel
and recounted the "facts of life"
there. They talked about the terri-
ble heat, the debilitating unemploy-
ment, the life of fearful exploita-
tion in the kibutz, the rule of
reactionary rabbis, about the coun-
try being one vast armed camp,
and so on. This ended the "evening
of Jewish culture." One can ima-
gine now the hundreds of Jews felt
they filed out of the hall.

perform another circumcision. The
panicky parents called an ambu- ,
But that was not enough. The
lance to take the child to a clinic.
authorities felt that the wider
He was treated by a young Jewish
Jewish public as well as the non-
doctor, who bandaged the wound
Jewish Bukovinian Ukrainians
and calmed the parents. Ile said it
with their centuries-old known
was nothing serious. They took the
tradition of anti-Semitism, should
baby home and the whole incident
share equally in the benefits of
would have been forgotten had it
the "evening of Jewish culture."
not been for the non-Jewish ambu-
The full story of the Schechter
lance driver, who reported the in-

cident to the authorities.
The authorities decided to deal
seriously with the matter. They
arrested the father and, through
him, found out about Schechter.
He did not deny having per-
formed the ceremony and was
arrested. Two months later, post-
ers were put up in the town
inviting the public to come to the
Philharmonic Ilall in Chernovlsy
for an "evening of Jewish cul-
ture" connected with some
atheistic activity. Few of those
present were able- to guess what
kind of "Jewish culture" they
would witness. The Jewish pub-
tic, avid for anything having to
do with Judaism, hoped that.
following the stereotyped lecture
on atheism, they would be treat-
ed to some Yiddish songs or a
reading from Sholem Aleichem.
Instead, there appeared on the
stage all those involved in the
Schechter incident. First, the
father told the audience that under
the influence of tradition he had
placed the baby in the hands of
the circumciser; that after the
barbaric ritual had been per-
formed under unspeakably unsani-
tary conditions, the cut had bled
again: and that thanks to the,
achievements of modern medicine
in the Soviet hospital, the child's
life was saved. The father told the
audiern'.• that this had cured him
for good. He appreciated now what
a mistake he had made and said
that he would never repeat it.
Then came the Jewish doctor who
told his version of the story. lie
explained how dreadful the inci-
dent was from a medical point of
view, how it negated the achieve-

ments of Soviet science, and vio-
lated the most elementary princi-
ples of sanitation and hygiene.
Then Schechter, the "star of the

incident appeared in the Cher-
Radianskaia Bukovina,
complete with pictures of the
father, the doctor and Schechter.

This is what happened in the
Chernovtsy community, where the
.Jewish population has been cut off
from its traditional moorings only
since the end of the Second World
War. But among the Jew s living
in the heart of the Soviet Union,
who have been divorced from their
past for three generations, there
are very few circumcisers left, and
it is no surprise that large num-
bers of Jews there are not circum-
cised at all.
Once, a naked and lovely two-
year-old baby attached himself to
me at a beach on the Black Sea.
After a while his grandfather
came to take him away. He apolo-
gized and asked if the child was
annoying me. Then his eyes fell
on a Hebrew paper lying near me.
and he was astounded. He would
not leave me until he had heard
as much as possible about Israel.
Ile played with the baby on his
knees: then with tears in his eyes,
he said: "Look at my grandchild.
a Jewish child. He has not been
circumcised. What can we do; we
have no circumciser in our town
and my son does not want to risk
going to the big city to find a
circumciser illegally." He mur-
mured again and again: "My

grandchild is not circumcised, my
grandchild is not circumcised."

The measures taken to separate
the Jews from their traditional ties
also affect the rites which mark a
turning point in the life of a Jew
(bar mitzva, Jewish marriage. and
burial), and the observance of
Jewish festivals.
If circumcision is not the most
significant Jewish rite, the next is
the admission of the Jewish boy to

show," appeared on the scene, a religious maturity when he be-
comes a bar mitzva. Because the
broken man.
He told the people that he had rite, in which a boy is called to

h Na

the pulpit to recite the blessings
over the Tora, is inextricably tied
to the synagogue (unlike cir-
cumcision which can be performed
clandestinely). parents wishing to
celebate their son's attainment to
the status of bar matzva must take
the risk of a public performance
in a synagogue. And. indeed. I
never saw a boy called to the
reading of the Law on my
numerous visits to the great
synagogues of Moscow and
Leningrad. Yet these cities contain
hundreds of thousands of Jews.
No one except the Soviet au-
thorities would dare maintain that
there are not at least a few
hundred or a few dozen parents
out of these hundreds of thousands
of Jews, who do not wish, with
all their heart, to see their thir-
teen-year-old boy called to recite
the blessings over the Tora. The
ceremony is not only replete with
religious significance but it has
a tremendous value in terms of
Jewish sentiment and the sense of
attachment to the Jewish heritage.
It is a fact, though, that none of
them dares bring his son to the
synagogue for a bar mitzva cele-
bration. The reason for this is as
simple as it is clear: the syn-
agogue is accessible to everyone,
including informers of every kind.
The parents are justified in fear-
ing that the boy's appearance in
the synagogue will be entered
sooner or later in his school rec-
ord. This record would serve only
to worsen his already delicate
status as a Jew in the school.
Why, the parents ask themselves,
should they purposely handicap
their son and place additional
obstacles in the path of his pro-
gress and studies? And so they
heave a sigh and give up the
idea of celebrating his bar mitzva.
The same is true in the case of
marriage. Religious marriage is
not recognized by Soviet law. Only
civil marriage is binding. Never-
theless, there are quite a few
parents who would want their chil-
dren to be married by a rabbi as
well. But they are deterred by a
feeling that this might hurt the
young couple who have just com-
pleted their education and are
only now beginning to venture into
Soviet life and society. Why dam-
age their prospects? And so they
give up the idea of a ceremony.
A little more daring is evident,
nevertheless, where marriage is
concerned, and one sometimes
sees a wedding performed by a
rabbi. But it is all done sur-
reptitiously and hurriedly: and the
percentage of Jews who have a
Jewish wedding ceremony is very
small indeed.

Friday, September 8, 1967-9

Israel Participating
in Levant Trade Fair

(Direct dTA Teletype Wire
to The Jewish News)

ROME — Israel will participate
in the famed Levant Trade Fair
opening at Bari on Thursday after
a four-year absence. An imposing
Israel pavilion will feature agricul-
tural machinery and the model of
an Israeli-built desalination plant.
Fertilizers and other Israeli
chemical products. and Israeli
dairy and citrus products will also
he exhibited. Wednesday will he •
observed as "Israel day" in the
presence of Ambassador Ehud Av-

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