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Russian Orthodox Church Leader Invites Jews to Moscow for Talks

November 18, 1991
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The head of the Russian Orthodox Church, calling for greater cooperation between his faith and the Jewish people, has invited a delegation of Jewish leaders to visit Moscow to establish a formal dialogue.

Aleksy II, patriarch of Moscow and primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, which claims some 70 million adherents, also condemned anti-Semitism during meetings here last week with Jewish leaders. He is in the United States on an 18-day visit that ends Nov. 25.

“The hierarchy, clergy and theologians of our church decisively and openly condemn any manifestation of anti-Semitism, hostility, as well as pogroms against Jews,” he told Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis at a Nov. 13 meeting here organized by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, an ecumenical group dedicated to promoting religious freedom around the world.

Acknowledging that popular anti-Semitism exists in the Soviet Union, he faulted the “difficult time of crisis, disintegration, and growth of national separatism and ethnic chauvinism.”

“The task of the Russian Church,” he said, “is to help our people overcome this.”

“We hope to achieve the understanding and help of our Jewish brothers and sisters, in order to build up, through joint efforts, a new democratic, free, open and just society.”

According to Rabbi Arthur Schneier, president of the foundation, Aleksy It’s remarks are “the most comprehensive statement and stand” on anti-Semitism made by any of the three Russian Orthodox Church primates he has known.

“The most we can ask of a leader is to give direction clearly and without ambiguity,” he said.


Not all who listened to the primate’s remarks were completely satisfied, however.

Martin Wenick, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said that in citing more than a dozen Orthodox Church leaders who protected Jews through different historical periods, the primate seemed to “gloss over history, both in the czarist and postwar periods.”

“The church was part and parcel of the czarist regime, which confined Jews to the ‘Pale of Settlement,’ and was certainly not a major force for Jewish rights in the last century,” said Wenick.

“I would like to have heard in more detail precisely how the church plans to move forward in building tolerance,” he said.

During a separate meeting with Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress and newly elected chair of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, Aleksy II invited IJCIC to visit Moscow and begin the formal dialogue process.

Five IJCIC representatives are expected to go to Moscow in January.

It will be the first formal dialogue ever established between Jews and the Russian Orthodox Church, said Elan Steinberg, executive director of the WJC.

“To set up a relationship with them is a breakthrough. It opens up new vistas,” said Dr. Leon Feldman, secretary of IJCIC, which represents world Jewry in dealings with the Vatican and other religious institutions.

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