The head of Ukraine’s council of churches is a rabbi from New York


(JTA) — An American rabbi is heading Ukraine’s national council of churches.

New York-born Yaakov Dov Bleich, one of two Orthodox Jewish individuals widely recognized as chief rabbi of Ukraine, will end his six-month stint in January as chairman of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, Tablet magazine reported last week in an interview with Bleich.

The title rotates automatically among the 18 organizations of various religious faiths and streams represented on the council — one is Jewish and two are Muslim. The council steers decisions affecting faith communities, but also has served as a power broker through various events and crises since Ukraine declared its independence in 1991.

Bleich has worked in Ukraine since 1990.

“As I see it, my mandate is to do something that unites all the different religious leaders of the Ukrainian churches, so that the council retains its relevance,” Bleich told Tablet.

Ukraine’s territorial conflict with Russia, which erupted in 2014, has stoked divisions among Ukrainian churches, as well as some Jewish groups.

During a Dec. 17 council meeting chaired by Bleich, the council passed a motion calling on Russia to release Ukrainian prisoners. Another declaration designated 2019 as The Year of the Family in recognition of “the challenges faced by the institution of family and marriage as a union between men and women,” the council said.

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