Russian Minister Agrees to Help Jews Regain Hundreds of Torahs

A top-ranking Russian official has promised to help the Jewish community regain hundreds of Torah scrolls.

Justice Minister Sergey Stepashin told Jewish religious leaders that the scrolls, which are currently in the nation’s museums, should be returned to their original owners according to an law on the restitution of religious property signed by President Boris Yeltsin several years ago.

Since then, the Jewish community has been trying to reclaim over 500 scrolls from museums in Russia’s three largest cites. According to Zinovy Kogan, executive director of the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations, there are about 180 scrolls in museums in Moscow, and some 400 scrolls are stored in museums in St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod.

The scrolls were taken from the synagogues by the Bolshevik authorities and transferred to museums where most of them have been “gathering dust in depositories,” said Kogan.

The Ministry of Culture has been reluctant to return the scrolls to the Jewish community.

In a meeting with the leadership of Kogan’s group, an umbrella organization representing some 50 Orthodox and Reform synagogues in Russia, Stepashin promised to allow rabbis to serve in the Russian army and penitentiaries.

Russian legislation does not address the question of chaplains to serve the needs of servicemen and prisoners. Major faiths, most notably the Russian Orthodox Church, have been working in the army and prisons for the past several years.

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