Top Ukraine rabbi urges against Uman pilgrimage, warns of Russian hostilities

Rabbi Moshe Azman says he fears for safety of visitors amid recommendations from Kyiv and Jerusalem that Hasidim not make the annual Rosh Hashanah trip

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Illustrative: People seen in the city of Uman, in central Ukraine, on January 26, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Illustrative: People seen in the city of Uman, in central Ukraine, on January 26, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

A prominent Kyiv-based rabbi on Monday advised Jewish worshipers against traveling to the Ukrainian city of Uman for the annual pilgrimage to the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav during Rosh Hashanah, because of the dangers posed by the Russian invasion.

In an interview with Israel’s 103FM radio, Rabbi Moshe Azman — one of several men claiming to be Ukraine’s chief rabbi — warned potential visitors that while Ukraine is not closed off to the world, the country is unable to guarantee thir safety.

“I am afraid that there could be provocations. Who will take responsibility for the lives of people?” Azman said.

Rabbi Nachman was an 18th-century luminary and founder of the Bratslav Hasidic movement. The city of Uman, the site of the rabbi’s grave, normally sees some 30,000 visitors, most of them from Israel, over the Rosh Hashanah holiday.

In July, the Ukrainian Embassy in Israel issued a warning against travel for the pilgrimage. Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk told ultra-Orthodox media outlets that the country “cannot guarantee the security of pilgrims” due to the Russian offensive, and asked the ultra-Orthodox community instead to “pray for the victory of Ukraine.”

Uman’s mayor Iryna Pletnyova also sought to deter pilgrims from arriving, emphasizing that the city did not have the capacity to provide protection to the tens of thousands of potential visitors.

Chief rabbi of Kyiv’s Brodsky Synagogue, Rabbi Moshe Azman, at prayer, August 8, 2022 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

However, Israel’s Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky said last month that a final decision had not been made yet and that the Jewish state would respect Kyiv’s wishes with regard to the matter. He added that the government advised against Israelis traveling to the site this year.

Meanwhile, Jewish community leaders in Uman have insisted that Uman is far from the front lines and that a safe arrangement can be found for the pilgrimage.

In addition to security concerns, travel to Ukraine is logistically difficult as airlines are not operating commercial flights into the country. The only way to enter the country is through a land border, by train or bus. The Moldovan border presents the fastest route to Uman.

Despite the challenges, locals told the Times of Israel last month that they expect the tourists to arrive anyway.

Lazar Berman and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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