Leading Russian rabbi criticizes local court for blacklisting book by 19th-century rabbi


(JTA) – A prominent rabbi from Russia condemned a ruling by a court in the Black Sea coastal city of Sochi that blacklisted and labeled as extremist a book penned by a 19th-century rabbi.

Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a senior aide to Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar and a key figure within Russia’s Chabad-affiliated Federation of Jewish Communities, called “absurd” Monday’s ruling by a district court in the city to classify as extremist the book “Forcibly Baptized” by Rabbi Marcus Lehmann.

The novel, which deals with a Jew’s determination to retain his faith despite external pressures to renounce it, was added to the federal list of extremist materials of the Ministry of Justice of Russia.

In his scathing rebuke Gorin, a book publisher by profession, said the decision was “a mockery of justice” that belonged in the 19th century. He also suggested it was part of a judicial policy in Sochi to limit the growth of Jewish spiritual life, and went on to compare the move to tendencies to distort the history of the Holocaust in Lithuania.

Gorin’s rebuke was the latest and sharpest in a series of comments reflecting discomfort with authorities and the judiciary by a man who serves as the senior spokesman for Lazar. The chief rabbi’s Federation of Jewish Communities has worked closely with the Kremlin on projects related to Jewish life in Russia, which has blossomed under President Vladimir Putin, whose government has allocated land for the construction of many synagogues.

In May, a Moscow-area court ordered a foreign rabbi serving in the city, Joseph Kherson, to leave Russia, citing his illegal work there without a visa. Earlier this year, Rabbi Ari Edelkopf, the emissary to Sochi of Chabad and the Federation of Jewish Communities, was ordered to leave by a local court on unspecified security charges. Gorin strongly objected to the ruling, which a higher court nonetheless affirmed.

“Until now, it seemed like a whim of the Sochi court, now it is the decision of the Justice Ministry. And it is an absolute mockery of the entire law on extremism,” Gorin said in a statement.

“To say this book is ‘extremist,’ a book which had dozens of editions, even in Germany in the 19th century, a book about the religious discrimination of Jews in Medieval Europe — that means to ridicule the idea of the fight against extremism.”

Recommended from JTA