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Growing religious freedom makes Russia a better place to be Jewish than Israel, a Russian chief rabbi said.

The head Chabad rabbi in Russia, Berel Lazar, says he advises Jews to stay in Russia and not to immigrate to Israel.

In an interview with the European publication Naaseh V’Nishma, he cited growing religious freedom under Vladimir Putin as a disincentive for Russians considering a move to Israel. Lazar said it is becoming more difficult for Jews to uphold their traditions in Israel, while Russia is increasingly open to religious practice.

Chabad in Russia has cultivated close ties with the Kremlin, and Lazar lavished praise on Putin for his outreach to the Jewish community in Russia while serving as the country’s president. Putin is now the prime minister.

“Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the attitude toward Jews here has changed for the better,” Lazar said. “These changes occurred alongside the rise of power of Vladimir Putin.”

Lazar cited negative attitudes in Israel toward Russian speakers as the main reason for his recommendation that Russian-speaking Jews stay close to home.

Lazar’s comments come as immigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union continues at an anemic rate and organizations such as the Jewish Agency for Israel refocus their efforts on increasing immigration.

“Just recently I spoke with people who had doubts about whether to repatriate,” Lazar said in the interview. “I told him that it was important to maintain themselves as Jews than go to a physical place of residence. I advised him to consider this, and he remained in Russia.”

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