Posts tagged antireligion.


Soviet Educational Advertisement in Yiddish, 1920
The “Kheyder” (traditional religious school) is compared to the modern “Rotn shul” (“Red School”): “The old school has fostered slates. The red school prepares healthy, capable working men, builders of the Soviet Order.”

Before the state established several Soviet Yiddish-language schools to further a Soviet agenda.

(via marxistswithattitude)

"Sometimes children were forced to perform antireligious actions in school that were organized in the form of a game. Many respondents reported that the idea of Passover was connected with various unconventional activities. Samuil G., who took part in these events in a shtetl in the Ukraine, remembers:

[W]e had many interesting activities taking place in [Yiddish] school. First, older children, the komyugistn [Komsomol members] would come to conduct some activities for us. They explained how religion oppressed the masses in other countries. We played many interesting games together. For example, on the first day of Passover, they would gather us together and give each of us ten pieces of bread. We were given the task of going to Jewish houses and throwing a piece into the window of ten different houses. The one who was the fastest would receive a prize. We enjoyed the game very much, especially when the old, angry women came out of their houses and ran after us screaming ‘Apikorsim!’ [‘Heretics!’]. We felt like heroes of the revolution and were very proud. But in the evening we would all go home and celebrate the traditional seder with all the necessary rituals.”

— Anna Shternshis, Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (2006), p. 41.

More on Red Passover

  April 01, 2013 at 11:10am

Despite the antireligious content of the Red seders, they were distinctly Jewish events, organized for Jews, by Jews, and, equally important, they were conducted in Yiddish. Even the building in which the event took place was frequently a former synagogue. Most Jews did not perceive these activities as anti-Jewish. They saw them as Soviet Jewish events, created for their entertainment, and also as traditional holidays. Even after the most successful Red seders, which were attended by large audiences, the majority would go home and celebrate traditional Passover seders. Furthermore, those who conducted the Red seder often hurried to conclude the event since their families were waiting for them at home to celebrate the traditional seder.

Anna Shternshis, Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (2006), p. 39.

More on Red Passover

  March 31, 2013 at 03:42pm

Haggadah shel pesakh (Story of Passover), cover from the second edition. Drawing by Alexander Tyshler. Moscow, 1927.

Alternative Passover

In 1921 the Central Bureau of the Bolshevik Party’s Evsektsii sent instructions to all local branches to organize “Red Passovers.” Popular brochures that came to be known as “Red Haggadahs” were published, specifying how to conduct the alternative celebrations. Many were written by local activists following a series of centrally directed patterns. One of these was the Komsomolishe Haggadah (Komsomol Haggadah), published in Moscow in 1923 by Moyshe Altshuler. Traditionally the start of Passover (an eight-day holiday during which consumption of bread or leavened products and yeast is forbidden) is marked with the Bdikas khometz—a search for all remaining traces of leavened food, followed by its burning. In Altshuler’s Komsomolishe Haggadah, this ceremony was transformed as follows:

Ten years ago the working class of Russia with the help of peasants searched for khometz (leaven) in our land.[1] They cleaned away all the traces of landowners and bourgeois bosses in the country and took power in their own hands. They took the land from the landowners, plants and factories from the capitalists; they fought the enemies of the workers on all fronts. In the fire of the great socialist revolution, the workers and peasants burned Kochak, Yudenich, Vrangel, Denikin, Pilsudskii, Petlyura, Chernov, Khots, Dan, Martov, and Abramovich. They recited the blessing: “All landowners, bourgeois and their helpers—Mensheviks, Esers, Kadets,  Bundists, Zionists, Esesovtses, Eesovtses, Poaley Zionists, Tsaarey-tsienikes, and all other counterrevolutionaries should be burned in the flame of revolution.[2] Those who are burned should not ever survive, and the rest should be given to us and we shall transfer them to the hands of the GPU.[3]

The Komsomol Haggadah combines all enemies of the Soviet regime as khometz, and recommends burning them. Equating antagonists who were notoriously anti-Jewish, such as the commander of the White Army Alexei Denikin, to Jewish Soviet opponents, such as Bundists or Zionists, was a popular method of Soviet propaganda.

Every seder ritual was transformed in the Soviet Haggadah. The traditional hand-washing and blessing before the meal became a political statement:

Wash off all the bourgeois mud, wash off the mold of generations, and do not say a blessing, say a curse. Devastation must come upon all the old rabbinical laws and customs, yeshivas and khaydorim, that becloud and enslave the people.

Some Soviet Haggadah texts … simply replace “God” with the “October Revolution”:

We were slaves of capital until October came and led us out of the land of exploitation with a strong hand, and if it were not for October, we and our children would still be slaves.

The Komsomol Haggadah argues that Passover is not a celebration of real freedom but rather of spiritual slavery, because the holiday comes only from heaven. In contrast, genuine freedom is in the hands of the proletariat, and therefore one must celebrate May Day.

Instead of the story of how the sea was divided, we speak about the brave heroes of the Red Army near Perekop. Instead of the groaning of the Jews in Egypt and God’s miracles, we speak about the real sufferings of the proletariat and peasants in their resistance against their exploiters and their heroic struggle.

In 1927 Altshuler’s Haggadah was reprinted with minor changes. The second edition featured a new illustrator—Alexander Tyshler (1898-1980), who worked for the Moscow State Yiddish Theatre. Although it still mocked traditional Judaism, the pictures were milder and included more positive images of Jewish workers and soldiers. Instead of ridiculing religious traditions alone, the second edition incorporated other “hostile” elements, such as Zionists, bourgeois Jews, and even Soviet bureaucrats. Judaism was now seen not just as a religion but rather as a banner under which all Soviet enemies were united. In other words, from an anti-Judaic piece of propaganda, the Red Haggadah eventually became anti-Jewish in general.


[1] The phrase “ten years ago” refers to the October Revolution of 1917 and is taken from the second edition, which was published in 1927.

[2] The first edition Di komsomolishe adds that all other shlim-mazls (losers) and parasites should be burned in the flame of revolution.

[3] GPU is the acronym for Gosudarstvennoe politicheskoe upravlenie, or State Political Administration (secret police). The entire sentence refers to a customary saying that is pronounced when one burns khometz before Passover: “Any khometz, or leaven, that is in my possession that I have not seen, have not removed, and do not know about should be annulled and become ownerless, like dust of the earth.” The particular expression rephrases the saying by identifying khometz with the representatives of ideologically hostile political parties.

— Anna Shternshis, Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (2006), p. 27-34.

  March 25, 2013 at 03:25pm

1: Jewish colonists, residents of a collective farm in Stalindorf, a Jewish autonomous subdistrict of the Kherson region (now in Ukraine) reading Der emes, 1937. (YIVO)

2: Der apikoyres, special fall edition, Kiev, 1923. The text reads: “The Torah is the best merchandise.” (via joanerges)

"[A]nti-Judaist diatribes were found throughout all types of Soviet Yiddish publications, from newspapers to scholarly discourses. At least seventy-four titles of specifically antireligious Yiddish literature were issued between 1917 and 1941. The Yiddish Communist newspaper, Der emes (The truth), became a leading forum for antireligous writing. The most intensive period of publishing antireligious literature was from 1927 to 1935. A special Yiddish-language periodical, Der apikoyres (The godless) was published from 1931 to 1935 by the League of the Militant Godless.”

— Anna Shternshis, Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939 (2006), p. 4.

  March 22, 2013 at 11:15am

I remember how the Jewish Communists closed the Jewish synagogue in Berdichev in 1929 or 1930. There was a synagogue near the sewage works. There were many synagogues in Berdichev, more than 130. There was a tailor’s synagogue. Some old Jews used to go there; they prayed minkhe and mayrev. It was a small synagogue.

Some younger children and I were walking around there. Suddenly, we saw many young people marching in the street. They were playing musical instruments. It was a small band. For us children, it was a big deal at that time so we all followed them. They were lined up in columns. They were wearing beautiful clothes, some green and blue, white shirts. At that time, the komyugistn [Young Communist League members] used to wear uniforms. They were approaching the synagogue. They came to the synagogue, and they stopped and played. After playing, they set up a platform and a table, and we, all children, were there, because we loved the band. One of them took out a paper and read aloud that religion was not good, and that the synagogue is evil, too. “We, the members of the Young Communist League, voted that the synagogue disturbed our work and was harmful to youth so it had to be closed.” So, some people went into the synagogue and they kicked out the old Jews who were praying there. The old Jews went out; they said they were not able to fight with Jews. All the young men were Jewish. After that, the komyugistn took a board, a hammer and some nails, and shut the door and put a notice on the front of the synagogue that it was closed by resolution of the Communist Youth Organization of the clothing factory. That was it. From that moment on, the synagogue did not exist any more.

Ian D., oral testimony in Anna Shternshis’ Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939

Although only parts of the population adopted the state’s negative attitude toward religion in the 1920s and 1930s, the effects of these antireligious campaigns eventually led to the popular opinion that observing religious traditions was not the primary way to express Jewish identity.

Anna Shternshis, Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939
  April 11, 2012 at 04:00am