Exiled former chief rabbi of Moscow talks about the state of Russian Jewry

I went to sleep in Moscow and woke up in Tehran, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt says.


For 29 years, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt was the chief rabbi of Moscow. But one-and-a-half years ago, everything changed. He left Russia with his family in March 2022, a few weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine.

“After Russia invaded Ukraine, there was an attempt at the beginning of the war to force religious leaders to support the war,” Goldschmidt tells JNS. “I and others believed that we should not support the war. And we concluded that we must not be silent.

 “I said, in a dramatic way, that I went to sleep in Moscow and woke up in Tehran,” the rabbi says. “I realized that I see no future for the Jewish community in the current structure of Russia, when just for calling the war a war (and not a ‘special military operation’), you can get 15 years in prison.”

JNS: Are you afraid, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt?

Rabbi Goldschmidt: Blessed is the man who is always reverent. Thank God, I’m in Israel and I am not thinking of going to Russia in the near future. Are me and my family more careful? The answer is yes.

JNS: What made you say those things in public?

Goldschmidt: I am a public figure. I can tell you that 90% of the Jewish community opposes the war. I am a Russian citizen, after all. Therefore, I am also responsible for what is done in my name. And as a religious leader, as a leader of an important community—even if it is small, it is historically very important—people in the community said that we must not support this war. A war without justification.

JNS: Some of your colleagues did not join you in your call.

Goldschmidt: The rabbis in Russia who remained behind, in Russia, should be able to live in the country. I don’t want to judge others.

Last weekend, Goldschmidt discovered that the Russian Ministry of Justice had branded him a “foreign agent” due to his criticism of the invasion of Ukraine. “Being a member of this ‘distinguished list’ is not a crime,” he says. “This is not a criminal case. Just sanctions. But if they open a criminal case against me this will be a different story.”

JNS: How did you find about it?

Goldschmidt: I just saw it on Saturday night. It wasn’t a surprise to me, but a surprise regarding why now? Almost a year and a half after I left Russia, I came out against the war, I resigned from my job—so, why now?

JNS: What do you think is the answer?

Goldschmidt: The Jewish issue made headlines again because of Israel. Israel today made a certain U-turn towards Ukraine. There were visits from ministers. [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy’s wife was in Israel. There is talk about [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu visiting Kyiv. And that’s why now I am the first religious leader in history to be on this distinguished list.

JNS: So, in a certain way, the Jewish community is a hostage to Israel’s relations with Ukraine?

Goldschmidt: Yes.

JNS: Very harsh things were said about you in the Russian Justice Ministry statement.

Goldschmidt: If my sin was to condemn this terrible war, the catastrophe, in which so many were killed, which harmed the Jewish communities in both Russia and Ukraine—I am not sorry about that.

JNS: Can Jews feel safe in Russia today?

Goldschmidt: Today, yes. The problem is what will happen tomorrow. The direction in which Russia is going is a return to the Soviet Union, to communism. And the biggest limitation of life in the Soviet Union was that a person did not have the right to live where or do whatever he wanted. This is the story of millions of Jews. The Iron Curtain is slowly closing. There are many Jews who cannot leave the country, some because they are of conscription age, some who work in government, and I am afraid that the Iron Curtain will come down completely again.

JNS: Can a Jew in Russia walk with a kipah on his head without fear?

Goldschmidt: When there was a strong government, Russia was safer than some [Western] European capitals. But let’s look at those who were arrested by the authorities in recent weeks: Some of them are Jews, like Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. In Belarus, there are about 1,500 political prisoners—quite a few are Jews.”

In recent weeks, some senior Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have made statements that were criticized as antisemitic.

“I think to this day that President Putin himself is not antisemitic, but this new structure of the Russian state after the outbreak of the war, when the state is closed, it causes it to hate everything that it sees as foreign,” Goldschmidt tells this reporter.

JNS: Do you think that the Russian government considers the Jews guilty of failures on the battlefield?

Goldschmidt: I hope not.

The rabbi says there were attempts by the Russian government to convince him to come back.

“They tried to talk to my heart that I should return. But I think I can’t go back,” he says. “And at the beginning they tried to pressure us to express support for the war, because they said, ‘The war against Ukraine is a war against the Nazis. You Jews should say you support it—it is a continuation of World War II.’”

JNS: Do you miss Russia?

Rabbi Goldschmidt: We left a lot of friends, the community and memories. I hope, and would like, to return for a visit.

Amichai Stein is the diplomatic correspondent for Kan 11, IPBC.

July 4, 2023 | 11 Comments »

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11 Comments / 11 Comments

  1. As Putin continues to survive the attempts to regime change Russia, another European govt falls. This time it is the Dutch govt which has fallen.
    From Eva Vlaardingerbroek:

    BREAKING: the Dutch government has COLLAPSED. FINALLY.

    After 10+ years of Mark Rutte’s globalist destruction policies, we now have a real chance of getting our country back.

    From what I can tell about the situation now, I think the actual fall of the cabinet itself is all for show. The ‘disagreement’ about immigration that they’re mentioning as the deciding factor, is not the real issue, because all government parties are in favour of more mass migration, including Mark Rutte’s VVD.

    Rutte just seems to think that he can trick the Dutch people into believing that he actually wants a stricter immigration policy this time around, and he thinks he can get re-elected again if he makes these false new promises.

    Do not fall for it.

    We cannot let him win again.

    If the Dutch people stop falling for his lies and get rid of him and his globalist policies once and for all, we can actually turn things around, stop the expropriation of our farmers, push back on immigration, and take back our national sovereignty from organisations like the EU and the WEF.

    In other words, this is a massive opportunity for us.

    Let’s pray that enough people have woken up and will actually vote for change this time.

    We will not get a second chance.


  2. Peloni,

    I stand corrected on your trifling comment. I had scanned her post several times and couldn’t see her use the word. This time, I used the “Edit” function, that she indeed (as well as EVERYONE else here, proving Godwin’s rule once again) did mention it:

    You have a sharp eye! BTW, did your keen vision also note the rest of the true things she said about your beloved Russians, which

    tortures prisoners by cutting off their genitals and raping women


    Don’t expect me to comment further on your nonesense here. Potapova was right; you and Ted were wrong. I’ve read all the comments. End of story.

  3. Michael

    you’re putting words into Potapova‘s mouth. She never even mentioned the word “fascist”; she is not blaming one side or the other for ultimately starting the “special operation”

    You need to read her comment more closely. She did actually specifically mention the word “fascist”, suggesting that Russia was more fascist while listing a number of claimed atrocities which are not ralatably fascist in their nature and further suggested that Ukraine was only acting in defense of its homeland:

    Also, he and others should consider what kind of state is actually fascist? A country that kills civilians in a cafe in Kramatorsk, takes out Ukrainian children, taking away their relatives, nationality and homeland, tortures prisoners by cutting off their genitals and raping women, or a country that defends its homeland?

    As I noted in my own comment, she is quite wrong, and I am still awaiting her evidence to try to convince me otherwise.

    In any event, Ted is not putting words in her mouth, as these claims are pretty clearly made in her comment. Also, the primary focus of Ted’s comment was that Potapova was using the argument that Russia is fascist to distract from the greater fact that the war was a consequence of the illegal US coup in Ukraine which was itself specifically manipulated to draw Russia into war toward the aim of effecting regime change in Russia. Ted notes that Potapova’s desire to see Putin undone is her focus, rather than the true cause of the violent tragedy being played out in Ukraine today, which was of course to be sourced to the US, and for what it’s worth, I am in full agreement with him in his analysis.

    Also, I want to thank you for your kind apology. We each overstep from time to time, and it is often difficult to keep a measured tone. In any event, I greatly appreciate your comment but ask that you please forget about it as I have already done myself.

    Personally, I believe it is very clear that Putin is not just stronger because of Prigoghyn’s mutiny, but that he is a great deal stronger. The entire nation resisted rallying to a popular war hero as he seemed to change sides and make a surreal march on his own capital. If support for Putin is not more solidified than before and there exists a strong grouping of dissidents amid the populace, the local govts, the army, or the federal govt, I would have to ask why the dissidents remained mute during the mutiny. Indeed, there was no rioting, no loss of civil control, no change even in the public calm during the entire affair. No generals stood up in support of the mutiny, no units defected, and no member of the govt came out in support of it. Prigoghyn’s mutiny for a day was a complete failure, and as a charming coup d’gras in support of Putin, it was later revealed that the West was completely aware and likely involved in the coming mutiny weeks before the mutiny took place, despite the faux claim that it had been a spontaneous result of Prigoghyn being attacked by the Shoigu’s regular Russian forces.

    The Russians are not stupid. They know what a defeat in this war will bring to them, and they have no interest in embracing their own destruction. They see Putin as a capaple leader in his handling this war, and are not interested in unseating him from this task – or at least they weren’t so inclined during the Prigogyn mutiny to do so, in any event. So, for what it’s worth, these are the facts which seem pertinent and influence my view on the mutiny, such as it is.

  4. Ted, you’re putting words into Potapova‘s mouth. She never even mentioned the word “fascist”; she is not blaming one side or the other for ultimately starting the “special operation”; she did not say “Jews will be better off if Putin is defeated”, and on down the line. In other words, you are, as she rightly says, “slinging mud at her”.

    What Potapova IS doing, is setting the record straight about the Rabbi, about the undeniable fact that it was Russia, not Ukraine, that invaded its neighbor (twice, in fact; in 2014 AND in 2022), and about the unspeakable crimes against humanity that have been exposed.

    You and Peloni are welcome to your opinions about the war, which you hold for reasons unknown to me; but it is not right to criticize Potapova nor the Rabbi, for speaking truth.

    Peloni, a while ago I said you looked “stupid” for insisting that Putin is in a stronger position because of the Prigozhin “couparade”. That really did seem, at the time, like a stupid statement; but I think I went too far. It’s really too soon, to say whether Putin is “stronger” or “weaker” than he was before. He survived the episode. That’s all anyone can honestly say about the matter. Please forgive me for overstepping.

    As for your aptly-noted “couch commentary” to Potapova, I believe she is correct.

  5. @Potapova
    Even if you are right that Russia is more antisemitic or fascist than Ukraine, that is not the determining factor in who to blame for the war. I still believe that the US is to blame.
    It changes nothing unless you think that Russian Jews will be better off if Putin is defeated. I don’t think so. But that is the not the goal of the West.

    You seem to argue that because it is antisemitic, America’s attempt to achieve regime change in Russia is warranted. It doesn’t matter to you that the US supported the Nazis in Ukraine in their quest to destroy Putin. So your opinion that Russia is more antisemitic is irrelevant to the War.

  6. @Potapova

    When you suggest that Russia is a more fascist nation than fascist Ukraine, you set a high bar for Russia to pass, and I would like to see the facts which might support your rhetoric here. In fact, Ukraine has targeted an entire population for military conquest simply because they refuse to accept the tyranny of an American installed govt over them. They beat public figures into making false confessions and published the videos online as if these acts were not criminal – the fact that it was a member of the Ukrainian parliament which did so makes this altogether more significant, that and the reality that he never went to jail for doing so. Ukraine has banished an entire faith from being practiced in the state. Ukraine banished the largest political party in the country, and this was prior to them banishing all the political opposition parties. Prior to banishing the political parties, the leader of the political opposition was arrested, beaten, robbed of his wealth and held for public ransom from the leadership of another nation. Ukraine forcibly removed the head of the supreme court simply because they did not like his rulings, similar to the removal of a number of jurists following the American coup to support their illegitimately installed regime. Ukraine used its military to assault the citizens of a minority community, and when the army refused to brutalize the minority citizens, Ukraine hired its own bully brute squad complete with actual neoNazi’s and unleashed the on the minority citizens in question. This project was so popular that the brute squads, neoNazi’s included, were later adopted into the military and they were granted elite status within the Ukrainian military. Yet, you say that Russia is more fascistic than Ukraine. Prove it. List for me the facts to support similar charges to these which have been committed by Putin.

    In fact, it was not Russia which assaulted Ukraine, but the US State Dept when it overthrew the Ukrainian govt. Following this, Ukraine was not Ukraine but an American puppet posing as Ukraine, much as it stands to this day as it liquidates its citizens in an American war which is beyond its ability to win. When Putin invaded Ukraine it was in support of the Ukrainian citizens which would not submit to the American installed tyrants heralded over them.

    Speaking as a couch commentator, a somewhat derogatory reference I might add, I have no interest in slinging mud at you, but I do have an interest in seeing the facts which mimic or dwarf these clearly fascistic moves made in Ukraine – and these were far, very far, from being an exhaustive list of such fascistic actions taken by the Ukrainians.

  7. Galina
    The Russian authorities forced Rabbi Goldshmidt to leave Russia. The ex-chief rabbi of Moscow has already been declared a foreign agent (a foreign agent in Russia is an enemy of the people). I note that the last time a rabbi in this country was declared an enemy of the people and shot under Stalin. In an official document of the Russian Ministry of Justice on June 30, it was alleged that Goldschmidt “spread false information about the decisions and policies of Russian state bodies and opposed a special military operation” in Ukraine.
    Commenting on being listed as a foreign agent, Goldschmidt said: “I am proud to stand on the right side of history and join the list of people speaking out against this terrible war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. For 30 years I have worked and defended the Jewish community, and no decision will prevent me from continuing to do so.”
    It is enough to receive two fines for any reason, for example, to say: “war” instead of SVO (special military operation), to condemn the war, to tell the truth about mobilization and war, to speak out in defense of Berkovich or an arrested American journalist of Jewish origin, to condemn the growing antisemitism of Putin and high-ranking persons or simply braid a yellow-blue ribbon into a braid (yes, it happened), after which a criminal case is opened and sentenced from 7 to 25 years in prison. All normal people, independent journalists and political scientists are forced to leave Russia. Mr. Vivarto and those like him should live in Russia and try to say publicly there, for example, “no war” or “peace-peace”, and not sit on a dusty home sofa and insult the people of Ukraine. Also, he and others should consider what kind of state is actually fascist? A country that kills civilians in a cafe in Kramatorsk, takes out Ukrainian children, taking away their relatives, nationality and homeland, tortures prisoners by cutting off their genitals and raping women, or a country that defends its homeland?

    You couch commentators can sling mud at me as much as you want, but I was and will be on the side of Ukraine, because not a single Ukrainian boot or NATO boot has set foot on Russian land. It was Russia that attacked her. And if she wins, G-d forbid, Moldova, Poland, the Baltics and even Kazakhstan will be next. Be afraid of the “Russian world!”

  8. “In his own case, the Rabbi was able to openly oppose the war, and was not imprisoned. So maybe the Rabbi is full of it.”

    You didn’t read carefully, vivarto. The Rabbi wrote this from exile. THAT is why he hasn’t been imprisoned.

    Russia is as fascist as countries come. The industrial base is controlled by oligarchs who are directly answerable to Putin — just like Krupp and Hitler. Also, Russia has made a policy of targeting civilians in large numbers, even while passing over nearby military targets. Putin’s men also regularly kidnap children, and torture and castrate prisoners. The Rabbi is correct:

    “I realized that I see no future for the Jewish community in the current structure of Russia…

  9. just for calling the war a war (and not a ‘special military operation’), you can get 15 years in prison.”

    Has that even happened?

    In his own case, the Rabbi was able to openly oppose the war, and was not imprisoned. So maybe the Rabbi is full of it.

    On the other hand, NOBODY in Ukraine openly opposes government.
    Ukraine is a true fascist terrorist country.
    Russia is acting like most countries that are in the state of war.