Russian, CIS Jewish, Orthodox leaders unite against Jews for Jesus sect

BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union - Political/May 18, 2001

An international conference: The Missionary Threat - How to combat it? was held in Moscow yesterday. It discussed the issue of the activity in Russia of various evangelical sects, which has increased noticeably over the last year.

In order to combat sects together, Russian Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar, the chief rabbis of Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Krasnoyarsk, and Armenia, and representatives of the Jewish religious communities of Belarus and other CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries attended the conference.

Roman Silantyev attended the conference on behalf of the Moscow patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. Those who had assembled agreed that the active work of missionaries from the organizations, Jews for Jesus and Shma Israel, constitute a real danger.

The sect propagandists, who come from the United States and Finland, are called representatives of Judaism and call upon all those who consider themselves true Jews to believe in Jesus Christ. The conference participants are of the opinion that this propaganda has two negative consequences - the incorrect interpretation of the main dogma of both Judaism and Orthodoxy and, consequently, the emergence of tension between the two confessions.

"These groups do not have anything in common with Judaism," Berl Lazar said. "Informational work is our main means of combating the spreading of missionary organizations. The most important thing is for people to understand that they are being deceived and that they know that true Jews, members of our community and synagogue, have nothing to do with all this campaigning and propaganda. We have found complete understanding of our position with regard towards the sect members from both Orthodox [Christians] and Muslims."

In his speech to the conference, Roman Silantyev, an official from the external relations department of the Russian Orthodox Church's Moscow Patriarchate, also expressed concern about the sects' activity, although he noted that these missionaries do not represent an especially serious danger to Orthodoxy but that the patriarchate approves and supports Mr Lazar's initiatives. The first informational steps were made right away yesterday. A seminar to train specialists who will oppose the missionaries, chiefly in Jewish communities in the provinces, was held as part of the conference.

A decision was made to set up a "Magen" league that will monitor the activity of the sect groups. Professor Aleksandr Lakshin of the Jewish Humanitarian Institute became the league's president. Yesterday, Russia's Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar issued a statement that says: "By using quotations that have been taken out of context and frequently deliberately distorted, the sect members are trying to prove that Judaism and Christianity are a single whole.

Every traditional religion has a right to its own unique spiritual heritage." There were no representatives of the Russian Jewish Congress at the conference but the congress expressed its solidarity with those who had assembled. In this case, the differences that exist in Russia's Jewish community were glossed over.

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