KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 6, Article 10, 7 June 2000
Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
Tuesday 6 June 2000
RUSSIA'S JEWISH ORGANISATIONS IN TURMOIL
by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service
Russia's Jewish leadership has been thrown into turmoil with the claim by chief
rabbi ADOLF SHAYEVICH that an anonymous Kremlin official suggested
last month that he resign from his post. The 62-year-old Shayevich became
chief rabbi of the Moscow Choral Synagogue - and therefore chief rabbi of
Russia - in 1983, but his position is now being challenged by supporters of
Moscow's Lubavitch rabbi BERL LAZAR, who has the backing of the
Federation of Russian Jewish Communities and - reportedly - of the Kremlin.
Shayevich's friends report that the Kremlin initially removed his name from the
list of those invited to VLADIMIR PUTIN's inauguration as Russian president
on 7 May, although Lazar and four assistants were invited.
Russia's Jews do not have a single unified structure. The Congress of Jewish
Religious Communities and Organisations, a centralised religious organisation
which has approximately 100 member-organisations, is the legal successor to
the Soviet-era All-Union Council of Jewish Religious Communities. It is
headed by Rabbi Shayevich, who was reelected in December 1999. The
Russian Council of Contemporary Judaism - which is made up of progressive
Jews and which supports Shayevich - is led by Rabbi ZINOVY KOGAN. The
third organisation, the Federation of Russian Jewish Communities, is a group
of Hasidic Jews following the Lubavitch tradition, led by Rabbi Lazar, a
United States citizen.
The head of the department for the registration of religious organisations at the
Russian Ministry of Justice, ALEKSANDR KUDRYAVTSEV, told Keston on
5 June that the first two organisations had been reregistered in accordance with
the 1997 law on religion, while the third had been registered as a new
organisation. `But now the Hasidic Jews want to introduce changes to their
charter and are effectively creating an alternative organisation to the Congress
of Jewish Religious Communities and Organisations,' he added.
Rabbi Kogan, chairman of the executive committee of the Congress of Jewish
Religious Communities and Organisations, gave Keston his account of events
on 2 June. `Adolf Shayevich's comments have publicised the fact that two
weeks ago a representative of the Federation of Russian Jewish Communities
came to him with some incredible suggestions, including the proposal that he
retire from his post. They believe that the chief rabbi of the Federation of
Russian Jewish Communities will also be chief rabbi of Russia. He rejected
their proposal. Then he had a telephone call from an official in the Presidential
Administration who asked to remain anonymous, who repeated the suggestion
that Shayevich retire from his post.'
Several years ago, Kogan explained, the Federation of Russian Jewish
Communities, the Russian Jewish Congress (which is led by the business
tycoon VLADIMIR GUSINSKY), and the Congress of Jewish Religious
Communities and Organisations, together with regional branches of the Jewish
National Cultural Autonomy organisation, formed the Jewish National Cultural
Autonomy organisation. `The Jewish National Cultural Autonomy organisation
has been naming the chief rabbi since 1989, whatever the Kremlin's wishes
may be. This is an important principle, even though according to the law this
organisation is a secular one.'
Kogan told Keston that the initial failure to invite Shayevich to Putin's
inauguration as president `caused us some concern'. `All members of the
Presidential Council were to be invited. It turned out that Shayevich's name had
been removed from the list of attendees and replaced by Rabbi Berl Lazar and
four assistants - in other words, five persons were invited in Shayevich's place.
We had to appeal to the good offices of the vice premiers and to our Russian
Orthodox friends to secure an invitation for Shayevich.'
By contrast, the press secretary of the Federation of Russian Jewish
Communities, BORUKH GORIN, rejected the account given by Shayevich's
supporters. `We think that this is a provocation and there is no justification for
such statements,' Gorin told Keston. `We made enquiries at the presidential
administration and they assured us that they themselves had been extremely
surprised by Rabbi Shayevich's remarks - there had been no telephone call from
Asked whom he considered to be the Chief Rabbi of Russia, Gorin told Keston:
`Mr Shayevich was the chief rabbi of the Moscow synagogue. In Soviet times
the rabbi occupying this post automatically became the chief rabbi of Russia.
The Chief Rabbi of the Federation of Russian Jewish Organisations is Berl
Lazar and he is the chief rabbi of Russia and the chairman of rabbis of the CIS.
This is the only system of election which exists in Russia. Shayevich on the
other hand is part of the legacy of the Soviet regime and was appointed chief
rabbi in Moscow with the approval of the former Council for Religious
In a public statement released by the Federation of Jewish Communities of
Russia on 5 June, Rabbi Lazar clarified his position. �In November 1999, I was
elected Chief Rabbi of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia by its
members, which represent 84 cities throughout Russia and a majority of the
Russian Jewish Diaspora. Moreover, the Federation of Jewish Communities of
Russia has no plans to organise an election for Chief Rabbi of Russia.�
Asked about Rabbi Kogan's claims that a Federation of Russian Jewish
Communities representative visited Rabbi Shayevich two weeks earlier and
suggested that he retire, Gorin told Keston that this was an `insinuation' and
that no discussions had taken place between his organisation and Shayevich.
Kogan reacted strongly to Gorin's statement: `Adolf Solomonovich
[Shayevich] will be forced to name the persons who visited him from the
Federation of Russian Jewish Organisations and the person who telephoned
him from the Kremlin. He has been left with no alternative and when he does,
it will be obvious who is lying.'
Keston has been unable to contact Shayevich, who has recently been in New
York attending celebrations for the seventieth birthday of ARTHUR
SCHNEIER, president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation and rabbi of
New York's Park East Synagogue. Officials at the synagogue told Keston on 5
June that Shayevich had left New York to return to Moscow earlier in the day.
They were not aware that he had publicly discussed the controversy during his
New York visit. However, Shayevich's office in Moscow told Keston on 6 June
that he would not be returning for another week. (END)
Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.