Moscow chief rabbi in exile for criticising Russian invasion


Eastern Europe


Photo AFP, David Gannon

The Moscow chief rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, has fled Russia because of the invasion of Ukraine. In his absence, several forces in the Russian Jewish community unsuccessfully tried to remove him from power.

Journalist Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, the wife of Goldschmidt’s son Benyamin, tweeted that Goldschmidt “refused” to support the war.

Earlier, in a conversation with Israel Today, Goldschmidt said that he was in Israel to be with his ailing father. Although, at first, he had plans to return to Russia, as the Times of Israel writes, he then decided to stay in Israel. He did so because he had been advised against returning to Moscow for the time being. This reports the British daily The Times. In that interview, the rabbi said he could not go further in publicly condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to ensure the “survival” of Russia’s Jewish community of 500,000 people.

According to Goldschmidt, the war in Ukraine forced more than half its Jewish population to flee. Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the main umbrella group representing Europe’s Orthodox rabbis, is Russia’s first senior religious leader to openly criticise the humanitarian toll of the Kremlin’s offensive.

Goldschmidt’s daughter-in-law states that the rabbi left Russia two weeks after the invasion. He travelled via Hungary to Israel.

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Goldschmidt has not been a vocal critic of the war. However, the French daily Le Figaro reported that he was sufficiently concerned about it that he reached out to rabbis in neighbouring Moldova in mid-February, days before Russia invaded Ukraine, to warn of a potential flood of refugees.


After he left, Goldschmidt said he had transferred all his powers to his deputy and did not know when he would return to Russia.

In his absence, the assembly of Jewish communities in the Russian capital voted to re-elect Goldschmidt as Chief Rabbi of Moscow. Goldschmidt, who has held this post for the past 30 years, will continue to keep it for the next seven years.

According to the Israeli news portal Newsru, the Kremlin began to put pressure on the leadership of the Jewish community after Goldschmidt left, seeking to remove him and appoint a new chief rabbi.

Therefore, Israel’s chief rabbis wrote to Russian Jewish authorities to not overrule Goldschmidt, despite his exile. “The current rabbis in Moscow are continuing to work among the community members. We ask that no change be made in the composition of the rabbinate and the tribunal without coordination with us so that we can continue the connection of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel with the important Jewish community in the city of Moscow in particular and in Russia in general”, the letter states.

Following the results of the elections, Goldschmidt retained his post.



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