Moscow chief rabbi flees Russia, in exile because he opposed invasion

After being pressured to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt flew out of the country, his daughter-in-law says; he is currently in Israel.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The chief rabbi of Moscow is currently in de facto exile in Israel due to his opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, his daughter-in-law revealed Wednesday.

“Can finally share that my in-laws, Moscow Chief Rabbi @PinchasRabbi & Rebbetzin Dara Goldschmidt, have been put under pressure by authorities to publicly support the ‘special operation’ in Ukraine — and refused,” tweeted Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, a journalist in New York married to one of the rabbi’s sons.

“They flew to Hungary two weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” she said. “They are now in exile from the community they loved, built & raised their children in, over 33 years.”

Although “grateful our parents are safe,” she added, “the pain & fear in our family the last few months is beyond words.”

The rabbi himself does not say that he cannot return as of now, telling Yedioth Ahronoth, “I do not define myself as an exiled rabbi, I am a rabbi who is not living in his community.”

Goldschmidt arrived with his wife in Israel before Passover, having spent weeks visiting and fundraising for Jewish communities in countries bordering Ukraine that had taken in Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russian forces. His official reason for coming – and staying – in Jerusalem beyond the holiday is that his elderly father is ill.

The rabbi has been silent on the war in public since leaving Russia, speaking about it for the first time only at last week’s annual meeting of the Conference of European Rabbis, which he heads as well.

“We have to pray for peace and for the end of this terrible war; we have to pray that this war will end soon and not escalate into a nuclear conflict that can destroy humanity,” he said in Munich. According to The Jerusalem Post, he was protected by German-paid bodyguards while there due to his having received death threats.

Officials at the meeting confirmed his daughter-in-law’s statement, Ynet reported, saying that Goldschmidt had come under heavy pressure from Moscow to support the war. Members of the Russian Jewish community said he was afraid to return because he had helped the refugees, the report added.

Chizhik-Goldschmidt pointed to the support her father-in-law still enjoys back home even through his absence, relating that he had just been re-elected to head the Moscow Jewish community.

However, the renewed seven-year-term wasn’t a foregone conclusion, according to a Wednesday report in The Jerusalem Post. There were efforts in the Jewish community that may have been backed by the Kremlin to vote in another candidate, said the report, and Israel’s chief rabbis became involved in the election on Goldschmidt’s behalf.

Rabbis David Lau and Yitzchak Yosef wrote a letter to the Moscow community asking “that no change be made in the composition of the rabbinate…without coordination with us,” citing the excellent relationship the Israeli Chief Rabbinate has with Goldschmidt.

The Chief Rabbinate, they wrote, still recognizes the rabbinic court Goldschmidt heads as “being under his guidance” even though, due to “personal circumstances, Rabbi Goldschmidt was unable to stay in his congregation during these days.”