Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar speaking at Limmud FSU Moscow
Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar speaking at Limmud FSU Moscow

Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar told the Limmud FSU Moscow conference that Russian President Vladimir Putin has done more for the Jewish community in Russia, including fighting anti-Semitism, than any other Russian leader.

Rabbi Lazar, addressing more than 2,000 Jews at the Limmud FSU (former Soviet Union) Study conference, said, “Putin was the first president to publicly speak out against anti-Semitism and did the most for the Jews in Russia. There is no institutional anti-Semitism in Russia. The attitude toward the Jews in Russia is excellent.”

Referring to Putin, the rabbi compared him favorably with previous Russian leaders. “In contrast to Gorbachev and Yeltsin, who were not interested in hearing about the situation of the Jews in Russia, Putin was the first to say that anti-Semitism has no place in Russia. This is not self-evident, nor is it obvious that there can be a conference in Russia today like the study of FSU with more than 2,000 Jews.”

Regarding recent anti-Semitic statements by Russian parliamentarians, Lazar said, “It’s just a drop in the ocean. These statements are of course inappropriate, but they are not the end of the world either. Our goal is to have a finger on the pulse and raise the issues on the political level in order to protect the Jewish community. We must cooperate with the government as long as it protects us.”

On a more amusing note, Lazar referred to the Russian authorities’ policy of banning the popular Pokémon Go mobile phone game in religious institutions. “If anyone finds Pokémon in our synagogues, we will be glad.”

Lazar also warned that French Jews should leave that country if nationalist presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who is leading in current polls, should win the election. “The situation in Europe is very worrying. If Marine Le Pen is elected president of France, the Jews must leave,” he said.

He also voiced general concern about the rise of nationalism across Europe. “The situation there is very worrying. Not only because of immigrants, but also because the general population is heading toward radicalization. The best example of this is the rise of extreme-right parties.”

When asked about recent media reports linking President Donald Trump and Chabad, Lazar said: “I do not like that people are intentionally looking for ties between Trump and Chabad or between Trump and the Jews in general. The only thing I can say it that it’s excellent that Ivanka Trump is Jewish, and that Trump’s grandchildren are Jewish too, but I have nothing to add beyond that.”

Before the U.S. presidential election, Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner visited the grave of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, in Queens. The site is popular among Orthodox Jews seeking a blessing and inspiration.

Lazar also defended Putin for his role in supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “It is not certain that there are better options for Syria than Assad. The Arab spring did not produce positive results. It seems that the Arab countries are not yet ready to accept the rule of democracy.”

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