Moscow’s Chief Rabbi sets out post-pandemic challenges facing the Jewish world

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Moscow’s Chief Rabbi sets out post-pandemic challenges facing the Jewish world

Pinchas Goldschmidt tells Jewish News: "We have to re-start Jewish life. Many places are now smaller, poorer, and less organised."

Chief Rabbi of Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt.
Chief Rabbi of Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt.

The post-Corona Jewish world faces many challenges, according to the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt. He told Jewish News: “We are at the end of Corona and we have to re-start Jewish life. Many places are smaller, poorer, less organised — and people have to decide again to leave their homes and go to synagogue or communal events.

“But our greater issue now is the refugees from Ukraine, Jews who have left their homes and are now displaced. The rabbis have left their communities and the people  are all over eastern Europe. Wherever they are, they have to be helped. They need housing and jobs and the children have to go to school. We are talking about a long-term integration process”.

Apart from the refugee issue, the CER acts as an umbrella body which can often intervene in situations where the local community is smaller and more vulnerable. Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt acknowledged serious problems in France and Belgium where there had been antisemitic attacks, and what he called “a wave of legislation against Jewish practice”, particularly shechita and circumcision.

Too often, he said, “the local community does not have enough clout or political influence to solve these issues for themselves, and need help from umbrella organisations”.

He added: “Sometimes you have a small community, but you have one smart rabbi or one smart lay leader who takes care of the problem. And at other times you can have a community where there are tens of thousands of Jews, but they can’t get their act together”. Some communities had closed altogether, but it was generally a slow process, where services had declined and the community members were getting older and the younger people had left.

Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt believed that the huge attendance at this year’s CER event reflected what the rabbis sought — “Inspiration. Being out in the field as the only member of the clergy, surrounded by lay people who know much less, you always have to give, to lead. So at some point you have to reload your values and get inspired yourself. And this is what is happening here.

“We’ve brought in the biggest names in the rabbinical world, those who make decisions on how Judaism deals with modernity and the ever-changing world — and we can come up with solutions and answers. This is the place where the rabbis get inspiration, particularly after they were isolated for so long.”

This was his positive message. But conversely, Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt said he “fully agreed” with philanthropist George Soros who had described the current global situation as “World War Three. It’s not being fought by [military] weapons but by economic weapons. It is an economic battle between the West and Russia”.

There was no doubt, he said, “that sanctions against Russian philanthropists will affect many Jewish charities which were beneficiaries, including those who were helping Ukrainian refugees. Some charities will be able to find alternative funding, some will scale back their programmes, some will probably have to close.  It depends a bit on how long the sanctions are in place. Either way it probably should have been factored into the decision and we now all have a responsibility to protect core community services.”

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