‘Putin’s rabbi’ calls for end to war in Ukraine, offers to mediate
Berel Lazar says he’s ready to do anything ‘to silence the guns and to stop the bombs,’ after Ukrainian rabbis rail against invasion
Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.
A prominent rabbi considered close to Russian President Vladimir Putin has called to end the country’s war against Ukraine, offering to help mediate between the two sides.
“God expects every believer to do everything in their power to save human lives. Personally, I am ready for any mediation, ready to do anything I can and beyond to silence the guns and to stop the bombs,” Rabbi Berel Lazar wrote in a post on a Russian Jewish website on Wednesday.
“Now is the time for joint action. Therefore, I appeal to all religious leaders in Ukraine, Russia, Europe, and other continents to join forces for peace. We, loyal to One God alone, should use all our influence, all our power to stop the chaos and prevent further casualties,” he said.
Lazar, a follower of the Chabad movement, has served as chief rabbi of Russia for some 20 years — though the position is somewhat contested — and has long been known to have the ear of the Russian president, occasionally earning him the moniker “Putin’s rabbi.”
His call to end the war on Wednesday appeared to be a major break from Lazar’s previous stances on Russia’s policies regarding Ukraine. In 2014, when Russia effectively annexed the Crimean peninsula, Lazar denounced fellow-Chabad Ukrainian rabbis who opposed the move and told them to remain quiet about the “activity of politicians.”
Lazar’s comments on Wednesday came amid fiery condemnations of Russia and its invasion by fellow Chabad rabbis in Ukraine, notably St. Petersburg-born Rabbi Moshe Azman, who explicitly called on Russian Jews to act to end the war.
In 2000, the Italian-born Lazar split off from the Russian Jewish Congress, an umbrella group representing the country’s Jews, and assumed the title of chief rabbi. The title is also claimed by Rabbi Adolf Shayevich, who is still considered Russia’s chief rabbi by the Congress.
Since then, Lazar has maintained close ties with the Russian government and its president Putin. He officiates regularly at Kremlin-sponsored events, gave Putin a tour of the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2012, and appeared alongside the Russian president when he hosted former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow in 2018.
He has, however, occasionally criticized the Russian leader, for expelling American Chabad rabbis from the country and for providing Syria with a powerful air defense system.
Yaakov Schwartz contributed to this report.