Senior Russian Chabad rabbi slams foreign funding bill


(JTA) — In a rare rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policy, a senior Chabad rabbi from Moscow expressed concerns over a bill aiming to limit foreign involvement.

Rabbi Boruch Gorin, an aide to Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi in Russia, and chairman of Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, expressed his criticism on Tuesday of a government-backed bill on foreign-funded religious organizations during an interview with Russia’s Interfax news agency.

“I have serious concerns about the bill,” Gorin said of the proposed legislation, which a parliamentary committee recently approved. The Russian parliament, the Duma, is scheduled to vote on the measure on June 30.

The bill proposes to oblige religious groups to report every income from abroad to authorities, and is believed to be connected to a crackdown on Muslim extremists in Russia’s southern republics and beyond.

But Gorin said the law would complicate the work of his Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia and other Jewish groups whose incomes originate partly from donations by Jewish communities outside Russia. He added that the bill would “increase the dependency” of religious groups on the government and heighten tensions with it.

The legislation is “redundant and potentially dangerous,” Gorin said, adding that the bill’s faults “outweigh the likely benefits as the authors [of the bill] see them.”

Furthermore, he said, “once an error is made it can be rated as a violation of the law if it is passed.” Gorin added that the bill would not expand the state’s authorities because religious groups are already accountable under existing legislation for illicit funds. All the new bill would accomplish, he said, is to “make the accountant’s work extremely cumbersome.”

Over the past month, Russian prosecutors have raided two Jewish educational institutions in Russia: Yekaterinburg’s Chabad-affiliated high school and a non-religious Hebrew-language school in Novgorod.

Under Putin, Chabad-affiliated groups rose to become the predominant Jewish group in Russia.

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