The Moral Dilemma of Russian Jewry, and Its Rabbis

In the past few months, religious leaders in Russia have found themselves under growing pressure to show their support for the war against Ukraine, while the government has become ever more hostile to dissent. The chief rabbi of Moscow left the country, and has since denounced Vladimir Putin. Meanwhile Berel Lazar—the more prominent of Russia’s two chief rabbis—issued a carefully crafted public statement calling for peace, and has avoided any criticism of the Kremlin even as he has refrained from showing explicit support for the war. Maxim D. Shrayer, returning to questions he addressed in Mosaic in 2017, examines the current dilemmas facing Russian Jewry and its clergy:

[T]he expectation of ethical and religious idealism, especially when it is broadcast from Jerusalem or New York rather than from Moscow, tends to obfuscate that a refusal to denounce or to criticize openly Putin’s war by religious leaders of a small and vulnerable minority (somewhere around 130,000 Jews left among over 140 million people in the Russian Federation) is not a true moral choice but something much closer to frenzied self-preservation. Can a choice made with a proverbial or real gun pointing to one’s face ever be a truly moral choice?

On March 2, 2022, an extensive commentary on the wartime views of Russian and Ukrainian rabbis appeared in Moscow’s Nezavisimaia gazeta (“Independent Newspaper”), one of the country’s largest dailies. On its broad surface, this article by Andrei Melnikov, deputy editor and editor of the paper’s religion supplement, was a detailed analysis of the statements that Ukraine’s Rabbi Moshe Reuven Asman and Russia’s Rabbi Berel Lazar had made in the first days of March 2022. Overlooked by Western commentators, Melnikov’s article amounted to both a playbook of and a position paper on what Putin’s regime has in stock for Russia’s Jews.

Melnikov drew a parallel to the postwar and post-Shoah, the darkest years for Soviet Jewry. . . . One can only guess whose messaging—and on whose behalf—Melnikov was doing in his article. His warning was unambiguous and menacing: “the small bunch of Jews made for a convenient and defenseless object of repressions. That is the way it has been in all times. And those abroad will not help. They will only commiserate, as has been the case in history.” . . . Melnikov delivered the final injunction in the article’s last sentence: “To provoke the repetition of tragedies is to be their co-participant.” By “provoking” he clearly meant breaking the rabbis’ silence and protesting the war in Ukraine.

Almost every week new reports emerge of reprisals against Jewish organizations based in Russia (most notably, the Jewish Agency for Israel) and of new outbursts of anti-Jewish prejudice and anti-Semitic scapegoating in the Russian media and public spaces (such as a recent attack against the Jewish-French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy). Classic canards of late-Soviet Russian anti-Semitism, originally directed at Jews seeking to emigrate and charging them with “abandoning Russia” on the brink of a national disaster, have returned to the mainstream from under the dirty rugs of public life. . . . The regime’s stated and implied expectations of the Jews look more and more like moving targets.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Anti-Semitism, Rabbis, Russian Jewry, Vladimir Putin, War in Ukraine

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy