Lithuania’s chief rabbi fired amid dispute over construction on former cemetery


(JTA) — The Jewish community of Lithuania fired the country’s chief rabbi amid his objections to the government’s plan to build on an area that used to be a Jewish cemetery.

The dismissal of Rabbi Chaim Burshtein, an Israeli who has served as Lithuania’s chief rabbi for 11 years, was announced Friday by Shmuel Levin, chairman of the Vilnius Jewish Religious Community, which is a part of the Jewish Community of Lithuania under Community President Faina Kukliansky.

“The Vilnius Jewish Religious Community resolved that after the current contract with Chaim Burshtein ends, it will not be extended, and that Shmuel Yatom is to perform the function of rabbi temporarily, until a new rabbi is found,” Levin said in a statement, which did not specify the reason for the discontinuation of Burshtein’s contract.

Yatom is the community’s cantor, according to Dovid Katz, a scholar of Yiddish and owner of the news and commentary site on Lithuanian Jewry.

Burshtein told JTA he would longer be chief rabbi as of September.

His dismissal follows his public criticism in February of Kukliansky, a former state prosecutor and police officer. Burshtein accused her of resorting to authoritarian tactics in running the community. She denied the claims and said she had no conflict with Burshtein but added that the community’s board was considering firing him.

Earlier this month, Burshtein announced that he would form a new organization, Beyachad. He also suggested that Kukliansky was using her contacts with officials to have him deported, though she denied this.

Burshtein said Kukliansky had approved, over his objection,  a government-led plan to build a conference center atop a dilapidated building that Soviet authorities constructed over what used to be a large Jewish cemetery.

Kukliansky defended the plan, saying it did not disturb any human remains of Jews.

Recommended from JTA