Russian Chief Rabbi Tells Jews To Back Off on Criticizing Vladimir Putin

Berel Lazar Backs Leader on Hasidic Trove and Gay Rights

Don’t Say No: Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, right, speaks to journalists at the Forward’s offices in lower Manhattan.
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Don’t Say No: Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, right, speaks to journalists at the Forward’s offices in lower Manhattan.

By Paul Berger

Published September 09, 2013, issue of September 13, 2013.
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Lazar said he would rather see the library and archive return to America, but for now, Chabad’s museum was the best option. Although his decision to accept the Schneerson Library has been unpopular among some Chabad rabbis in America, Lazar said that Rabbi Avraham Shemtov, chairman of the Aguch, advised him to accept the books and “was supportive of the idea.”

Lazar said that pressuring Russia would never succeed and that he has repeatedly advised the Aguch to drop its legal action. “As long as there is a lawsuit… Russia [is] never going to give back the books,” he said.

He had similar advice for the Anti-Defamation League, which recently called for Congressional action over Russia’s new anti-gay law.

In August, ADL national director Abraham Foxman called on Congress to pass legislation that would punish Russia for a recent bill passed that has been largely viewed as violating gay rights. Foxman suggested a law similar to the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on Russian officials implicated in the death of whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.

But Lazar said legal and political pressure does not work with Russia. He pointed out that Russia retaliated against the Magnitsky law by making it illegal for Americans to adopt Russian children.

Apart from criticizing ADL’s tactics, Lazar appeared to support Russia’s controversial law, which bans “propaganda on nontraditional sexual relationships.” Lazar said the Jewish community did not want its children to see people “marching through the streets with the wrong message.”

Besides, Lazar said, street demonstrations are perceived more negatively in Russia than in America. “There is a different mentality, a different social understanding of what demonstrations are,” Lazar said.

“I think the American negative criticism against Russia is really because they don’t understand the soul of the Russian people,” he added.

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger


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