Jews will thrive again in Russia one day, says exiled chief rabbi

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt says once there's regime change, there will be a blossoming community


FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 26: Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, during the ordination ceremony of Nosson Kaplan, Benjamin Kochan, Jochanan Guggenheim, to become Orthodox rabbis at the Westend synagogue, on September 26, 2016 in Frankfurt, Germany. The three men, who completed their rabbinical studies at the Rabbiner Seminar zu Berlin and are the first Orthodox rabbis to be ordained in Frankfurt since World War II, will serve Jewish communities across Germany. (Photo by Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images)

Jews will not return to Russia until Vladimir Putin’s regime has been thrown out of power, the exiled Chief Rabbi of Moscow has said.

Speaking during a visit to Parliament this week, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt said: “I believe once there’s going to be regime change, there is going to be again a thriving Jewish community.

“To be honest, it’s going to be smaller, poorer, but it is basically dependent on what kind of regime is going to appear in Russia.”

Though tens of thousands of Jews have now resettled in Israel, Istanbul, and former Soviet states, there is still a possibility they may return.

He was optimistic about the potential for the country to change, Rabbi Goldschmidt said, because of what he had already witnessed in the Soviet Union and the Middle East.

“When I went to move to the Soviet Union in ‘89 people thought I was crazy,” he said.
“I remember them saying, ‘everyone is going to leave’. Now Russia, Ukraine — until the war — all the ex-Soviet countries had thriving Jewish communities.”

Seven years ago, Rabbi Goldschmidt said, he organised a “secret meeting” between Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, then crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and the president of the World Jewish Congress to discuss how the Jewish community in the gulf state could “come out from underground”.

“I was sitting with the crown prince and the first question he asked me, ‘rabbi, you Jews, what do you do with heretics?’ I wasn’t prepared for this question… I said ‘nothing’. He tells me, we hang them.”

Today, however, “we have thousands of Jews living in Dubai”. Whether Putin will be removed depends on the outcome of the war, Rabbi Goldschmidt said.

If it goes badly, a palace coup or even the break-up of Russia into its constituent regions could be on the cards.

Rabbi Goldschmidt, who was raised in Switzerland, moved to Russia in 1989 and worked to rebuild Jewish communal institutions in the aftermath of communist repression.

In March last year, he fled his home of three decades for Hungary after he was pressured to publicly support Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“I woke up in a new country,” he told assembled politicians in a House of Lords committee room on Tuesday night. Russia had overnight transformed “from an authoritarian country to a semi-totalitarian country”.

Discussing the growing threat to Jews, he added: “I am much more afraid of governmental antisemitism than grassroots antisemitism.”

Though “you cannot accuse” Putin of personally holding antisemitic views, he claimed, “if cornered you cannot know” what his regime is capable of.

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