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A Russian court on Wednesday upheld the deportation of Chabad's Rabbi Yisroel Silberstein, Rabbi of the Primorye region in Russia's far east.
According to the Vladivostok District Court's initial ruling on February 12, Silberstein, an American working in Russia for the last two years, listed "cultural activities," in his visa application, inconsistent with the religious work he was actually carrying out.
According to the Federal Migration Service, Silberstein should have listed "religious activities."
Silberstein told Lubavitch.com that he would be flying to New York on Wednesday night.
In a statement, director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia, Alexander Boroda called the decision part of a "dangerous trend in the region" which included the deportation of Chief Rabbi of Rostov-on-Don Eliyashiv Kaplun in 2003 and the blatant use of the migration service "to deny work visas for spiritual leaders."
"The Jewish community is outraged at these policies which target Jewish spiritual workers who are foreign citizens. This trend could significantly redraw the map of faith-based work in Russia, making it extremely difficult to perform spiritual work on behalf of the Jewish community," said Boroda.
He said that historical Soviet efforts to suppress Judaism and deny them opportunities for religious instruction and to develop their own community rabbis, makes it necessary to import foreign clergy today.
"Our extensive efforts since the fall of the Soviet Union have not been sufficient to overcome the devastation and train a new generation of rabbis. The Jewish community in Russia had to resort to inviting rabbis from abroad because only they have sufficient training for the position," he stated.
He called the ruling illogical "since the execution of rabbinical duties includes cultural, educational and outreach activities." He insisted that a rabbi's work was in the category of "cultural activities."
The Federation statement also called for a review of a November 10 violent robbery of Silberstein in central Vladivostok, after which he was hospitalized.
It went on to praise foreign rabbis in Russia for "engaging in the spiritual upbringing and education of Jews in Russia who had been distanced from their religious traditions and spiritual roots."
Russia's Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar said the decision was an "unjust technicality."
"I don't believe that this is a precedent for returning to the policies of repression," he said. "But unfortunately, it's not the first time that local authorities have taken actions reminiscent of Soviet Jewish religious persecution."
Lazar said local authorities "are playing a dangerous game."
"This does not endear Russia to the international community," he said. "These kinds of actions encourage such negative associations with Russia today, and "only add to international tensions at a time when Russia has other problems to deal with."
Federation spokesman Boruch Gorin, told Lubavitch.com that the decision would be appealed with "higher judicial authorities" and "will not go away quietly."
In another statement released on the Chabad Web site, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky called the ruling "deeply disturbing."
"We have been sending emissaries from the US to help reach out to Jews in the FSU with education and leadership to help them build Jewish communities," he said. "This will make it possible for them to eventually produce spiritual leaders from their own, local population."
"But until that has been achieved, Russia's Jews are in dire need of the work of our emissaries," Krinsky continued. "Rabbi Silberstein has done an outstanding job thus far, and this decision only punishes Russia's Jews, denying them access to Jewish education and other religious benefits that people enjoy in other countries in the free world."