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‘I could not remain silent’: Moscow’s chief rabbi says he left over war in Ukraine

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt says the city’s Jewish community ‘would be endangered’ if he stayed after he spoke out against Russia’s invasion and assisted refugees

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt delivers a speech in Paris, France on Oct. 10, 2018. (Conference of European Rabbis via JTA)
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt delivers a speech in Paris, France on Oct. 10, 2018. (Conference of European Rabbis via JTA)

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who was Moscow’s chief rabbi for over 30 years, said Thursday he left the position because his stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine endangered the Jewish community.

He said he had taken part in the “historic renaissance of Russian Jewry” since the fall of the Soviet Union, but struggled under Russian President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly authoritarian regime.

“As the terrible war against Ukraine unfolded over the last few months, I could not remain silent, viewing so much human suffering,” he said in a statement. “I went to assist the refugees in Eastern Europe and spoke out against the war.”

He said he had been re-elected as Moscow’s chief rabbi last month, but as time went on, “it became clear that the Jewish community of Moscow would be endangered by me remaining in my position.”

“Sad as I am, in the circumstances, it is clearly in the interest of the future of the community that I now leave my post,” he said. “May G-d bless and keep the Moscow Jewish community.”

He had been Moscow’s chief rabbi since 1989.

Goldschmidt is the President of the Conference of European Rabbis, and said he will continue to serve the communities of Europe, including Moscow’s, in that position.

The board of the Moscow Jewish Religious Society had voted last month to support a contract extension for Goldschmidt, even though he had been in Israel for some time.

A spokesperson for the group told Russian media on Wednesday that Goldschmidt’s contract had not been extended despite the vote, though, adding that he had not been fired.

Goldschmidt left Russia in March, two weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine. His daughter-in-law, the journalist Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, said recently that Goldschmidt had been pressured to support the war publicly but had declined to do so.

Other rabbis in Russia, including the country’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, and his top spokesperson Boruch Gorin, have remained in the country after expressing concerns about the war.

Lazar and Gorin belong to a Chabad-affiliated group, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, that has long enjoyed strong ties to Putin. The group gained ascendency over all other Jewish organizations in Russia in the early 2000s, helped by the land and funding it received from the Russian government.

Goldschmidt, meanwhile, has had a rockier relationship with Russian authorities.

Born in Switzerland and not affiliated with Chabad, the Orthodox rabbi was suddenly denied entry into Russia in 2005, then allowed back in weeks later. Authorities never offered a detailed explanation for the episode but some officials said there had been a “national security issue.”

The trajectory of Goldschmidt’s career increasingly has centered on Western Europe. He has served as the head of the Conference of European Rabbis since 2011.

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