Lubavitch Group Names New Rabbi


Associated Press/June 13, 2000
By Anna Dolgov

MOSCOW (AP) _ A Jewish group on Tuesday proclaimed its spiritual leader to be the new chief rabbi of Russia, but the man who has held the post claimed the move was part of a Kremlin plot to use religious organizations in a political power-struggle.

Both Adolf Shayevich, Russia's chief rabbi since the early 1980s, and Berl Lazar, named chief rabbi by the Federation of Jewish Communities on Tuesday, called the other an impostor.

Shayevich represents mainstream Orthodox Jews in Russia, while Lazar heads the ultra-Orthodox Chabad Lubavitch movement. Most of the estimated half million Jews in Russia are nonobservant, but the rival religious groups are vying for funding and influence.

Mikhail Chlenov, president of Jewish umbrella group Vaad, said the Federation, which only represents Lubavitch Jews, "has taken too much upon itself" by deciding to choose Russia's chief rabbi. The group supporting Shayevich is the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations.

"Any person can gather a group of his supporters and proclaim himself whatever he wants, but he shouldn't forget that he has been elected as chief of those supporters he gathered," Chlenov said.

Lazar and Federation spokesman Borukh Gorin conceded that Tuesday's congress was largely made up of the Chabad Lubavitch movement. But Federation leaders insisted they initially had no plans to replace Shayevich, and the question was raised by ordinary delegates.

"This question came up by itself," Federation president Mikhail Gluz told a news conference.

Shayevich insisted the attempt to replace him went beyond religious rivalry and was spinning from intrigue-filled corridors of the Kremlin.

"Based on my recent conversations with Chabad Lubavitch representatives, I am beginning to think that ... very influential people are behind this, people who are trying to pull the Jewish community into their political squabbles," Shayevich said in a telephone interview.

He suggested the move to replace him was part of a government attempt to get at tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, a powerful critic of the Kremlin who heads the Russian Jewish Congress _ the secular partner of Shayevich's religious group.

Hours after the Federation proclaimed Lazar to be the new chief rabbi, news broke that Gusinsky was arrested on charges of stealing state property.

He was being held in a Moscow jail, the Interfax news agency quoted his lawyer Pavel Astakhov as saying.

Gusinsky's holding company Media-Most was raided by government tax police last month. He called the raid an attempt to threaten his various media holdings, which have been critical of President Vladimir Putin.


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