12 October 2007

The Subbotnik Jews

Michael Freund is director of Shavei Israel, an Israeli group that assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people. He has spoken in the past to JFRA Israel on his work, and writes frequently in the Jerusalem Post on various issues.

His latest article concerns the Subbotnik Jews:

The Subbotniks' ancestors were Russian peasants who heroically converted to Judaism despite Czarist persecution more than two centuries ago. They referred to themselves as "the Gerim," using the Hebrew word for converts, but historians labeled them "Subbotniks" because of their observance of the Subbot, or Jewish Sabbath.

The Subbotnik Jews observed Shabbat and kept kosher, prayed three times daily and donned tefillin (phylacteries). They celebrated all the Jewish holidays, from Yom Kippur to Lag Ba'omer, baked their own matza for Pessah, and even managed in some cases to send their children off to study at the great Lithuanian yeshivot in the 19th century.

Subbotnik Jews mingled and married with Russian Ashkenazi Jews in nearby cities such as Voronezh, as well as with Bukharan and other Jews in the Caucasus region.

Over the years, the Subbotnik Jews clung to their faith with a stubbornness and tenacity that overcame Czarist oppression, Soviet subjugation and Nazi cruelty, defying their tormentors to remain true to the laws of Moses and Israel. Even after many were exiled to the far reaches of Siberia, they continued to practice Judaism as best they could.

Freund addresses the problems of some 20,000 Subbotnik Jews wishing to come to Israel, categorizing them as the "new refuseniks" of our time.

To read the complete article, click here

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