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 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
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
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-
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
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