JERUSALEM (AP) — Rabbi Moshe Greenberg, a religious educator who survived a brutal Gulag in Siberia and secretly taught Judaism under an oppressive Soviet regime, has died in Israel. He was 84.
The Hasidic Chabad Lubavitch movement in which Greenberg was a member said he died on Tuesday.
Greenberg was born to a Hassidic family in Moldavia at a time when Jews were oppressed and Jewish practices were forbidden by the Soviets, Chabad said on Thursday.
At the age of 14 he went to Tashkent in Uzbekistan to study Judaism at a secret Chabad seminary. While there, he became part of the “Chabad underground,” a network that worked to maintain and teach Jewish traditions, which the Soviet’s had outlawed, said Menahem Brod, spokesman of Chabad in Israel.
The Soviets banned the practice of Jewish rituals and the teaching of Judaism and those caught doing so were severely punished, Brod said.
Greenberg was caught trying to escape the Soviet Union at the end of World War II and was banished to a Siberian forced labor camp for seven years.
Chabad says he kept and taught Jewish traditions in the Gulag, the infamous Soviet prison system, despite the danger.
Even with the scarce food rations and hard labor, Greenberg adhered to strict Jewish dietary laws while incarcerated, Chabad said.
The movement also recounted how in 1951, before a period of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Greenberg risked punishment to copy word for word a prayer book that had temporarily been smuggled into the camp.
Greenberg continued to clandestinely teach Judaism after his release from the Gulag and until he managed to escape to Israel in 1967.
He later recalled that he “broke down in tears” as he looked around a synagogue he was praying in and watched “in disbelief as Jews practiced Judaism openly.”
In Israel, Greenberg opened a school, taught Judaism and served as director of Chabad of Bnei Brak, a city near Tel Aviv.
He is survived by 17 children and over 130 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Chabad said, adding that many of his descendants continue in the rabbi’s path.
Chabad sends emissaries around the world, including to remote spots with tiny Jewish populations, to provide kosher food for travelers, teach rituals such as lighting Sabbath candles and lead classes on Judaism.