Betsy Gidwitx Reports
Report On Jewish Life In Moscow

October, 1999

Outside Russia, the most notable development in academic Judaica may be in Kyiv, where Kyiv Mohilansky Academy (KMA), one of the most prestigious universities in Ukraine, and Hebrew University are considering a collaborative relationship similar to that between Moscow State University and Hebrew University. The local individual in charge of the proposed arrangement is Dr. Leonid Finberg, a well-known specialist in sociology of the Ukrainian Jewish population.

International Solomon University, a for-profit institution in Kyiv, continues to be problematic. It is self-isolated from the conventional academic community, and its most competent faculty leave for more traditional educational environments. However, its new branch in Kharkiv appears to be more accountable.

Sefer is concerned with all areas of academic Judaica, including Jewish languages, history, sociology, culture, and the Jewish religion. Dr. Kaplanov observed that the upsurge of anti-Jewish bigotry in Russian has led to an increased interest in antisemitism as an academic subject.

Sefer has started its own academic journal, Вестник (Herald), and is preparing the “academic day” for the annual Jewish Book Festival, which is scheduled for November in 1999. It is reaching out to various groups in the community, such the Hillel student organization, which Sefer is advising in its efforts to train guides for tours to places of local Jewish interest.29 Sefer also is establishing a relationship with Ковчег (The Ark), the Jewish Agency initiative for Jewish intellectuals.30

Along with JDC, the Russian Jewish Congress is a major funder of Sefer. Evgeny Satanovsky, Chairman of the REK Board of Directors and a recent recipient of a Ph.D. degree, is the major Sefer advocate within REK, and also contributes his own funds to Sefer programs.

Both Dr. Kaplanov and Dr. Mochalova are optimistic about the future of academic Jewish studies in Russia. Russian Jews, they said, are in a “post-assimilationist” stage and are searching for Jewish meaning in their lives. However, only an intellectually coherent approach to Judaism will appeal to them, an outlook that they believe is currently unavailable in local [mainly hasidic Orthodox] synagogues. The two scholars suggested that Sefer can be a critical force in sustaining Jewish identity in Russia if it develops popular lectures and courses of study that will appeal to a broad range of Jews and other individuals who are close to Jews.

When asked if Progressive Judaism could find a constituency among contemporary Russian Jews, Dr. Mochalova responded, “Of course (Конечно).” Both professors acknowledged that the native Russian-language skills of Rabbi Haim Ben-Yaakov, the Progressive rabbi in Moscow, are important in reaching the Russian intelligentsia. Rabbi Ben-Yaakov is very active, they noted, and could do very well in bringing Judaism to Jews in Moscow.

7. The Jewish University in Moscow was founded in 1990 shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and has had degree-granting status since 1993. It conferred its first undergraduate (baccalaureate) diplomas in 1998. JUM offers majors in the following fields: Jewish history; modern Hebrew; society, politics, and economics of Israel; Judaism and Jewish tradition; Bible and classical Hebrew studies; Semitic and Near Eastern studies; social psychology; and education. Its classes meet in the late afternoon, evening, and Sunday. Many students are enrolled in parallel courses of study at other Moscow universities and institutes. JUM enrolls more than 150 undergraduates, more than 50 percent of whom are Jewish.

The JUM faculty is part-time and consists of qualified scholars who hold concurrent teaching appointments at several additional Moscow institutions The writer met with Professor Alexander Militarev, President of JUM in JUM offices, located in an obscure, attic-like room in the main humanities building of Moscow State University (MGU).

The original sponsor of JUM was the Aleph Society, an organization associated with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. This relationship was always uneasy because the resolutely secular approach of JUM clashed with the more religious orientation of Rabbi Steinsaltz. Over time, JUM was successful in attracting financial support from local and international secular sources.31

In 1998, JUM became a partner in a joint venture with MGU and Hebrew University (Jerusalem) to establish a Center for Jewish Studies and Civilization within the MGU Department of Asian and African Studies. The CJSC program offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees in three specific program areas: Jewish Languages and Literature; Jewish History; and Israeli Society, Economics, and Politics. Students also have access to courses in the MGU School of Humanities, the MGU School of Social Sciences, the MGU School of Pedagogy, and another new MGU Center, the Center for Classical Hebrew and Biblical Studies.32 JUM/CJSC graduates receive their diplomas and degrees from MGU, which is considered one of the most prestigious universities in Russia.33 The aim of CJSC is to train specialists in Jewish and Israeli studies for work in academic, diplomatic, economic, and cultural fields. According to Dr. Militarev, about 20 percent of the students in CJSC are Jewish, a much higher percentage than in MGU as a whole. Without being asked, he added that CJSC had been a second or third choice program for some students after having been rejected by the department that was their first choice.

Hebrew University assigns Russian-speaking faculty to teach at JUM/MGU in areas where JUM/MGU is weak, such as rabbinics and certain periods of Jewish history. The benefits to Hebrew University of this arrangement are: (1) access to Jewish resources in Russia; (2) academic positions for young Russian-speaking Israeli faculty; (3) potential influence in Russian Jewish studies; and (4) enhanced relations between Israel and Russia.

As the joint venture matures, the Center will be assigned classrooms at MGU during the week so that it will be able to adopt a normal class schedule. Exposure to Western institutions and philanthropic processes has led to the creation of an American Friends of the Jewish University in Moscow organization and the production of sophisticated publicity materials.


The 32-page booklet at right is one of several color enclosures in a publicity portfolio designed for potential donors in the West. The booklet includes a profile of the institution (history and status, principles and goals, curriculum and majors, faculty, research, financial resources, affiliations) and other information.



Citing recent developments, Dr. Militarev said that the Center for Jewish Studies and Civilization had received a grant from the Pincus Fund of the Jewish Agency for support of Jewish students in Jewish education. Twenty-five students, of whom 15 are Pincus Fund recipients, are enrolled in a collaborative program with the MGU School of Pedagogy for the preparation of Judaic studies teachers for universities and Jewish high schools in the provinces. Under terms of the grant, the Pincus Fund and the Russian Jewish Congress each pay 50 percent of tuition costs.

JUM/CJSC also is supervising a new Jewish studies program at the Oriental Lyceum, a Moscow high school associated with the MGU Institute of Asian and African Studies. From the eighth grade on, pupils at this school select a concentration in Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, or Hebrew. Three groups of 15 students in the Hebrew concentration have four weekly lessons in Hebrew and one in Jewish tradition and culture. JUM/CJSC graduate students teach at the high school. It is likely that the program will provide future CJSC students. JUM/CJSC is also in contact with several Jewish day schools, hoping to recruit their graduates into JUM/CJSC.

8. Project Judaica is a joint project of the Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH) and the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS; Conservative or Masorti movement) of New York. RSUH was founded during the glasnost period of the late Soviet era and is housed within the buildings of the former Higher Party School of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Project Judaica is an interdepartmental center seeking to train language specialists in Hebrew and Yiddish as well as archivists prepared for research in Jewish archival material.

The writer spoke with Dr. Mark Kupovetsky, a specialist in Jewish sociology and demography, who also serves as Executive Director of Project Judaica.34 Dr. Kupovetsky said that the current enrollment in Project Judaica includes 52 undergraduate students, approximately half of whom are Jewish or partly Jewish.35 Thirty-six individuals have already completed the program; of these, 22 are continuing in graduate school (13 in other countries, four at Project Judaica, and five in other Russian institutions).

Project Judaica offers three majors: (1) archival work, with a concentration in Jewish languages; (2) history of philology, with a concentration combining Jewish history, languages, and culture; and (3) cultural anthropology, with a concentration in Jewish civilization (cultures, history, ethnology). Certain core courses in Hebrew, Jewish history, Judaism, and various Jewish texts are required of all students.

29. See p. 25.
30. See pp. 52-54
31. These include the Russian Jewish Congress and several Moscow-based individual and corporate benefactors, the Pincus Fund of the Jewish Agency, the government of the State of Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and several other U.S.-based individuals and foundations.
32. Lack of funding has thwarted an agreement with the School of Social Sciences to operate a joint graduate degree program in Jewish communal service with the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University in New York.
33. The earlier private status of JUM had generated certain difficulties regarding recognition of its degrees.
34. The co-chairmen of Project Judaica are Natalia Basovskaya of RSUH and Dr. David Fishman of JTS. According to Dr. Kupovetsky, Dr. Fishman visits Project Judaica twice each academic year for 10 to 14 days at a time, usually during JTS vacation periods.
35.  Dr. Kupovetsky said that four or five students are followers of the Chabad movement or “other Orthodox” forms of Judaism

Prev | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Next

Click here to view/download a PDF version of this report.
To view/print the above file you must have the free Adobe Acrobat reader. Click here to download the reader.
  Copyright 2007 Baecore Group