The Death of Boris Nemtsov and the Future of Jews in Russia

March 9 2015

Boris Nemtsov, the recently murdered Russian opposition politician, was born to a Jewish mother; although he converted to Russian Orthodoxy after the fall of the Soviet Union, he occasionally expressed pride in his Jewish origins. Pinchas Goldschmidt, chief rabbi of Moscow, reflects on what his death signifies for Russian Jewry:

Nemtsov and many other Russian politicians of Jewish descent, whether part of the opposition or supporters of Putin, are more reluctant today than ever before to express their Jewishness openly, trying to hide their Jewish descent behind the façade of a religious conversion, not unlike the Jews in 19th-century Germany, and not unlike Heinrich Heine, the famous German Jewish writer who considered his conversion to Christianity as the entrance ticket to European culture.

With each passing day, the Orthodox church is becoming more visible and present in the Russian state and government, not unlike pre-revolutionary times, where the state and the church were one.

This state of affairs has also had many ramifications on different levels. Practicing Jews in higher government positions are afraid to hold public life-cycle events, and Jews in higher government positions are being approached by representatives of the church with soft-sell advice to convert to the state church. Jews who converted do not necessarily find the pastures greener on the other side of the fence, and there is no guarantee that they will not be considered Jews by anti-Semites.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Orthodox Christianity, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Russian Jewry

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East