Betsy Gidwitx Reports
A Survey of Jewish Life in Moscow
October 20-29, 1998

In all, Dr. Kaplanov is pleased with the development of Jewish studies programs in the successor states. He believes that few of these will emerge as great centers of Jewish studies, but each provides some possibilities for serious scholarly work. Additionally, a number of both general and specialized journals publish scholarly articles in Jewish studies. At this point, he continued, the entire field is too dependent upon foreign resources, both in financial support and in expertise in areas where local knowledge is inadequate. If REK is unable to provide sufficient funding, Dr. Kaplanov believes that individual members of REK who have shown special interest in Judaic studies, such as Evgeny Satanovsky, will continue to support their development. [10]

Dr. Kaplanov observed that Christian and Islamic educational institutions in Russia and other successor states also are opening departments of Jewish studies.

The student section of Sefer held a very productive conference during the summer of 1998, said Dr. Kaplanov. He acknowledged that many graduate students in Jewish studies leave Russia in order to complete advanced degree programs in stronger institutions abroad. Some are likely to remain abroad as opportunities are greater in foreign countries. Some will return to Russia or other successor states as shlichim (representatives) of various Jewish organizations.

In response to a question, Dr. Kaplanov listed the following as goals for Sefer: (1) increased Judaic studies course offerings at Sefer-affiliated institutions; (2) a larger number of institutions associated with Sefer; (3) an improvement in the quality of work at Sefer-affiliated institutions; and (4) development of Judaic studies research institute(s) associated with the Academy of Sciences. Regarding the last goal, Dr. Kaplanov said that academic politics interfered with university-based Judaic studies. In Moscow, he said, relations between the various institutions offering Judaic studies are good, whereas the individuals associated with different institutions in both St. Petersburg and Kyiv are fractious and cantankerous. [11] Turf battles between institutions deter collaboration by scholars.

According to Dr. Kaplanov, the potential for Reform and Conservative Judaism in Moscow is very strong. The cause of Reform Judaism would be advanced by establishing an Institute for Modern Jewish Studies in Moscow that is similar to the institution of the same name in Kyiv.

7. The Jewish University of Moscow has had official academic status since 1991. It graduated its first class in 1996, conferring undergraduate degrees in Jewish history, linguistics, Jewish history, and pedagogy. It offers courses in history, Jewish texts, Judaism, Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish, Jewish literature, sociology, education, and other subjects. Its classes meet in the late afternoon, evening, and on Sunday. Many of its students are enrolled in parallel courses of study at other Moscow universities and institutes. Its faculty is part-time and consists of qualified scholars who hold concurrent teaching appointments at several Moscow institutions.

The writer met with Alexander Militarev, President, and Arkady Kovelman, Rector, in the office of JUM, which is located in an obscure area of the main humanities building of Moscow State University (MGU). Although JUM had no official relationship with MGU until earlier this year, it had been permitted to use an attic-like room at MGU as an office.

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. More recent financial support has come from the Russian Jewish Congress. In 1998, an agreement was reached with Moscow State University (MGU) that transforms JUM into the Center for Jewish Studies and Civilization within the MGU Department of Asian and African Studies. Course offerings within the new Center will be organized in three divisions: Jewish Languages and Literature; Jewish History; and Israeli Society, Economics, and Politics. Students also will have access to courses in the MGU School of Humanities and the MGU School of Social Sciences. The School of Social Sciences will operate a joint graduate degree program in Jewish communal service with the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University in New York. [12] JUM also will be involved in a second new Center at MGU, the Center for Classical Hebrew and Biblical Studies.

Students will receive their diplomas from MGU, which is considered one of the most prestigious universities in Russia.[13] About 90 percent of faculty members now teaching at JUM will be accredited in the new program. Dr. Militarev will remain President of JUM, and Dr. Kovelman will become director of the Center for Jewish Studies and Jewish Civilization. The Center will be assigned classrooms at MGU during the week so that it will be able to adopt a normal class schedule.

A second agreement has been reached, between JUM and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Hebrew University will send 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. Hebrew University will do some fundraising for JUM in the context of its own fundraising program. Dr. Militarev acknowledged that, if Hebrew University fundraising on behalf of JUM is successful, the JUM financial situation may become stronger than that of MGU (which is bankrupt).

Approximately 150 students are enrolled in JUM, of whom 55 to 60 percent are Jewish. The economic crisis has forced some to end their studies as they need to work to support themselves and their families. Twenty-four individuals received JUM undergraduate degrees in 1997. Four or five have begun graduate work in Jewish studies, several are working for JDC and/or other Jewish organizations, and the remainder are outside the field.

Responding to a question about the future of Russian Jewry, Dr. Militarev said that the answer depends on the course of the Russian economy. The high intermarriage rate -- "not less than 80 percent" -- obviously limits the number of Jewish births. The poor economy encourages emigration and reduces the birthrate of those endogamous families who remain. Dr. Kovelman took exception to Dr. Militarev's presumption that intermarriage will necessarily lessen the number of identifying Jews. On the contrary, he asserted, many non-Jews in mixed marriages participate in Jewish activity because it is more "dynamic" than non-Jewish life. Dr. Militarev's disagreement with his colleague's optimistic assessment of intermarriage was visible. The two men did concur that a sizable number of post-Soviet urban Jews deliberately seek non-Jewish spouses in the belief that intermarriage will lessen their exposure and that of their children to antisemitism. They also agreed that some Jews will marry only other Jews and, for yet other Jews, the ethnic background of a potential spouse is of no consequence.

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. As noted, it seeks to train philologists in Hebrew and Yiddish as well as archivists.

Since the inception of Project Judaica, JTS has struggled to find appropriate faculty members willing to work in Moscow alongside local instructors in Hebrew language and other topics. The practice during the past few years has been for regular and/or adjunct JTS faculty members to come to Moscow in one-month rotations, teach in an intensive format, and then return to the United States. Because few such individuals are able to teach in the Russian language, Project Judaica students are required to learn English. Courses for first- and second-year students often must be taught through an interpreter.

The writer met with Rabbi Jane Kanarek, a recent graduate of JTS. Born in South Africa and raised in the Boston area, Rabbi Kanarek is following a different path than some of her JTS predecessors in that she intends to remain in Moscow through the end of the academic year. Her position is funded in part by JTS and in part by the Joint Distribution Committee. She is teaching three courses -- Basic Judaism, Torah, and Codes -- for a total of six classroom hours. She finds that preparation for these classes requires substantial time. She must teach first-year students through an interpreter, but has found that more advanced students do well in both Hebrew and English. [14]

Rabbi Kanarek said that other aspects of her position include being a "role model" -- as she is "young, a rabbi, and religiously observant in a modern world" -- and a "Judaica resource person". She is beginning to coordinate extra-curricular activities at Project Judaica, such as Shabbat dinners and festivities for various holidays. She also is doing some community outreach work through JDC, e.g., working with Hillel members.
Regarding Project Judaica itself, Rabbi Kanarek said that entrance into the academic program appears not to be competitive. Nine students will graduate in 1999. In the past, the best students have entered graduate programs in Jewish studies in the United States or at Oxford University in England. [15]  A few have entered doctoral programs in related areas in post-Soviet universities. The less capable students begin careers in other fields. Very few graduates enter the archival or philology fields for which they have been educated.

Acknowledging that she had been associated with Project Judaica for just two months at the time of our discussion, Rabbi Kanarek said that the program appears to require further definition. Too few graduates work in the fields for which they have been trained. Post-Soviet Jewish-related archives simply cannot absorb them. Further, the current curriculum teaches about Judaism, rather than Judaism itself. She believes that Project Judaica must move "out of the classroom", but she is not sure how this should be done. She added that some of the students seem to have a real "yearning" for Jewish knowledge and Jewish lives, but no outlet exists for their searching. It is likely, she said, that some do not understand the nature of their yearning. [16]

10. Mr. Satanovsky and several other prominent Russian Jews are strong supporters of academic Judaica in large part because they perceive secular study of Jewish subjects as a welcome alternative to the dominant position of Orthodox Judaism in Russia
11. The reality that most Moscow-based specialists in Judaic studies hold part-time appointments in two or three different institutions doubtless contributes to cooperative working relations between such institutions.
12. MGU students will enroll in the block program at Wurzweiler, which includes three eight-week summer sessions at Yeshiva University with two years of field work. The field placement of MGU students will be in Russia.
13. The earlier private status of JUM had generated certain difficulties regarding recognition of its degrees.
14. Rabbi Kanarek is studying Russian twice weekly with a tutor.
15.Academic observers in Moscow believe that the English-language teaching culture at Project Judaica actually encourages students to identify with the United States and/or England and to pursue careers in an English-speaking country.
16. In a letter to the writer dated 25 September 1998, i.e., before the writer's journey to Moscow, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor of JTS, wrote that Project Judaica has "three dimensions: the archival inventory, the restoration of Jewish studies, and service to the Jewish community." Chancellor Schorsch continued that JTS is determined to enlarge its impact on the religious life of Russian Jewry.

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