Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Nissan 5765 - April 20, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Russian Jewish Schools Enroll Non-Jewish Children

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Most of the Jewish day schools in the former Soviet Union register exclusively or mostly children who are Jewish according to halochoh, at least according to their policy. However, there is hardly a school that doesn't have at least some non-Jewish students, not to mention children of mixed families who aren't Jewish at all because their mothers are not Jewish.

Not all schools are ready to face the issue openly. Some parents try hard to conceal the fact that they have no connection to Judaism. For generations Jews tried to hide their Jewishness under communism.

Some schools opened their doors to non-Jewish students because they can't enroll enough Jews to fill their classrooms.

The Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Giyur founded by the late HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth zt"l said that according to the piskei halochoh which they received from the gedolei haposkim, a Jewish school is not allowed to accept non- Jewish children for several reasons, including the prohibition of teaching Torah to non-Jews. The Vaad spokesman also said that the Jewish schools are obligated to make a thorough investigation as to the personal status of each student that they accept. According to the information of the Vaad, in Russia and in other countries, many make only very superficial investigations, and even of those who make better investigations, very few conduct a proper investigation.

Besides the halachic issues involved in accepting such children in schools, the Vaad spokesman noted that a major cause of assimilation is that non-Jewish children who learned in Jewish schools often wind up marrying Jewish spouses.

"Many schools, especially in the smaller communities, have begun accepting non-Jews, primarily because of the lack of Jewish children," says Hana Rotman, a leading expert on Jewish education in the former Soviet Union and head of the St. Petersburg-based New Jewish School research center.

The number of Jewish schools in the former Soviet Union has grown in recent years but most Jewish children still attend state schools. There are now nearly 100 Jewish schools with approximately 15,000 students in the former Soviet Union.

"Many Jews prefer to stay away from anything Jewish," says Dmitry Tarnopolsky, Jewish community chairman in the Ukrainian city of Dneprodzerzhinsk.

"We have more new applications from non-Jews than from Jews, whom we usually have to persuade," he says.

The lack of Jewish children is evident at Jewish Day School No. 41, a school in the western Ukrainian city of Chernovtsy. There are few Jewish children left, the result of a high rate of emigration and an aging community.

The 14-year-old school, one of the oldest in the former Soviet Union, receives municipal funding. As a result, it has to have a minimum number of children, often 25, in each grade. To meet that minimum the school had to accept non- Jewish students.

Today at least one-third of the students are non-Jews, and the ratio is even higher in the primary school, the principal says. She herself is not Jewish.

In her school, all students are required to study Hebrew and Jewish history and tradition. Every boy is required to wear a yarmulke in classes on Jewish subjects. She says that her goal is to maintain the Jewish character of the school.

It was natural for her to become the principal of a Jewish school, she told a reporter. She had many Jewish friends as she grew up and then went to work in this city, which until recently had a large Jewish community. Most of the local Jews immigrated to the United States and Israel. The 1989 census registered 16,500 Jews, while the 2001 census counted slightly fewer than 1,500.

Some parents try hard to conceal the fact that they have no connection to Judaism.

In St. Petersburg, the mother of a primary-school student at a Jewish day school, which officially only accepts children who are Jewish, asks that the family name not be used. Anna says that her family had no relation to Judaism, but that the Jewish school is the closest to her home.

Some experts say Jewish schools should face the issue openly instead of pretending it doesn't exist. Lubavitch school officials were unwilling to publicly acknowledge the issue.


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