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Levin, Yehudah Leib (rabbi)

(1894–1971), rabbi. Born in Nikopol’, Ekaterinoslav province, Yehudah Leib Levin studied at the Slobodka yeshiva and then in a Jewish teachers’ seminary in Ekaterinoslav (mod. Dnipropetrovs’k). He taught Jewish studies in Ekaterinoslav until 1923, when he was invited to take up the post of rabbi in Grishino (Krasnoarmeiskoe). He remained in that city until the German invasion of the Soviet Union, subsequently evacuating to Uzbekistan and then returning to Krasnoarmeiskoe in late 1944.

In 1946 and 1947, and then from 1948 to 1953, Levin served as rabbi in Dnipropetrovs’k. He then returned once again to Krasnoarmeiskoe, fulfilling a variety of functions for different Jewish communities (mostly in Georgia and Uzbekistan), notably as a scribe of religious texts. In 1956, Rabbi Solomon Shlifer brought Levin to Moscow to serve as administrative head of the new Kol Ya‘akov Yeshiva, which was about to open. After Shlifer’s death in 1957, Levin succeeded him as rabbi of the Moscow Choral Synagogue (a post he retained until his death), as president of the Jewish community (until 1960), and as rector of Kol Ya‘akov, where he also taught.

In many ways Levin followed Shlifer’s footsteps. He retained the tradition of Jewish studies in the Choral Synagogue, persisted in encouraging the training of shoḥetim (ritual slaughterers) and mohelim (ritual circumcisers), and sought annually to publish a Jewish calendar. Like Shlifer, he received foreign delegations and individual guests; like all religious functionaries, he was obliged to report regularly on his conversations with foreigners to the government Council for the Affairs of Religious Cults.

Because Israeli embassy personnel regularly attended his synagogue, Levin found himself in a very difficult position. He frequently had to warn his congregants against contacts with Israelis. As the leading Jewish religious dignitary in the Soviet capital, he faced tensions when the Soviet Union severed diplomatic relations with Israel and expelled that country’s mission after the war of June 1967. As the Soviet attitude to Israel grew increasingly hostile, Levin was also expected to append his signature to anti-Israeli statements. In March 1971, he hosted a conference of representatives of the Soviet Union’s Jewish religious associations to discuss “the attitude of the USSR’s believing Jews to the provocative acts of international Zionist organizations and their fabrications regarding the situation of the Jews in the USSR.”

In 1968 (after 11 years of requests), Levin received permission to publish a second edition of the Peace Prayer Book. That same year, he visited the United States as a guest of the American Council for Judaism. There he assured his hosts that antisemitism did not exist in the Soviet Union, that the Jewish religion enjoyed equality with other religions in that country, and that the Soviet Jewish community was in no need of assistance from abroad.

Levin participated in Shomre ha-gaḥelet (Glowing Embers; 1966), an anthology of ritual responsa and Jewish theological thought of Soviet and East European rabbis edited by Tsevi Harkavy and Avraham Sha’uli. He also contributed to Sefer Yekaterinoslav-Dnepropetrovsk (1972) and to the Romanian Jewish journal Revista cultului mozaic, and in 1967 sent a responsum to the New York Orthodox journal Ha-Ma’or.

Suggested Reading

Imanu’el Mikhlin, Ha-Gaḥelet (Jerusalem, 1986); Sefer Yekaterinoslav-Dnepropetrovsk, ed. Tsevi Harkavy and Ya‘akov Goldburt (Jerusalem, 1972).