Ex-Moscow chief rabbi is the face of Russian-Jewish resistance to Putin

No. 22 on The Jerusalem Post's Top 50 Most Influential Jews of 2022: Former Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt is the chief rabbi of Moscow. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt is the chief rabbi of Moscow.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Up until this year, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt wasn’t anonymous, but he wasn’t an international media star as he is today and known to the masses. Heads of relevant Jewish organizations knew him or of him, as well as heads of European countries and, of course, the rabbinic world.

In 2022, something unexpected happened: Suddenly, after more than 30 years of being one of the refounders and leaders of post-Soviet Russian Jewry, the war in Ukraine convinced this veteran rabbi that he could no longer live in Russia while President Vladimir Putin and his regime attacked and killed innocent Ukrainians – dozens of them being Jews

He left Moscow, where he had served as chief rabbi for decades, and traveled to different European countries with borders with Ukraine, in order to lead the efforts of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) to bring relief to tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jewish refugees.

By doing so, and by denouncing the war, Goldschmidt made a personal sacrifice. He fled Russia with his family and began living temporarily in Israel. He left the community he established in the 1990s, when there was barely any Jewish sentiment in the post-Soviet country, without being able to pack properly or say his farewells.

Ever since, this CER president has become the face of the Russian-Jewish resistance to Putin. He recently told The Jerusalem Post that for years he was followed by the Russians, and that his phones were constantly tapped. He has been interviewed on almost every large media outlet in the world, be it in Israel, the US, Europe or elsewhere. 

RABBI PINCHAS GOLDSCHMIDT: Jews become the collateral damage (credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS)RABBI PINCHAS GOLDSCHMIDT: Jews become the collateral damage (credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS)

The face of Russian-Jewish resistance to Putin

For years, Goldschmidt was in a complex situation with Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, who is considered a confidant of Putin. Lazar hasn’t directly criticized the regime, but he recently led a prayer service with close to 100 rabbis that called for the end of bloodshed and for peace.

Goldschmidt has been embraced by Western countries and Jewish communities, whereas Lazar, whose connection to Putin used to help him, is now paying the price of this close relationship.

Goldschmidt has become a world-renowned leader. At the recent Jerusalem Post Annual New York Conference, he received the Post’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his service to the Jewish people. 

In his role as CER president, Goldschmidt has made the organization more professional and well connected. In addition, he is able to maintain close relationships and ties with rabbinic leaders from all parts of the Orthodox world – including Modern Orthodox and haredi leaders – something that most rabbis aren’t able to do.

As CER president, Goldschmidt has met many top world leaders in recent years, as well as the heads of the European Parliament and ministers.