Skullcap slur causes brouhaha in EJC

Moscow chief rabbi threatens to press charges against EJC president.

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
May 30, 2007 22:39
2 minute read.
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Moscow's chief rabbi has threatened to press charges in a rabbinical court against the president of the European Jewish Congress for telling him to take off his skullcap following a stormy political debate over next month's elections for the head of the EJC. Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt made his threats against President of the European Jewish Congress Pierre Besnainou in an e-mail he sent to members of the EJC. The spat comes less than a month before Besnainou faces off against Russian Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor in the June 26 EJC elections after what has become an increasingly boisterous race, and just weeks after the publication of an ethnic slur against Besnainou by a top official of the World Jewish Congress. The contentious skullcap remarks were made at a May 17 EJC executive committee meeting in London in which the date for the election was chosen following a bitter debate between Besnainou and Kantor over whether the vote should take place before or after the June 10 elections for the presidency of the World Jewish Congress. Besnainou's preferred date was selected in the end. "I am sorry to say that when he plays with politics as he tried to do in London I cannot consider him a rabbi," Besnainou told The Jerusalem Post in an interview Wednesday. "Pinchas, you're not a rabbi, you're not religious, you're a disgrace to the yarmulke, you should take off your yarmulke," Besnainou told Goldschmidt after the meeting. Goldschmidt's e-mail demanded that Besnainou apologize, saying "The words you used towards me in front of others after the meeting cannot be tolerated among Jews. As a rabbi, I am committed not to overcome or ignore what you said to me, since it is not only a personal insult, but an insult to the Torah." Goldschmidt ended his e-mail - which was forwarded to the Post - by urging its recipients not to discuss the issue with the media due to months of negative press the New York-based World Jewish Congress has been receiving over a series of controversial moves and allegations of financial mismanagement. "From a rabbi, I expect another attitude than support [sic] a hidden agenda... You are perfectly right to do so, if you wish, but you act as a skilled strategist and no longer as a rabbi," Besnainou replied. Besnainou's response, which Goldschmidt called "anything but an apology" prompted the rabbi to threaten to press charges in a rabbinical court. The public tiff comes just weeks after the publication of an internal World Jewish Congress memo by the controversial secretary general of the WJC, Stephen E. Herbits, which included the ethnic slur against Beisnanou. The memo, which was first reported in the Post and initially denied by the organization, likened the Tunisian-born Besnainou to an Arab. Herbits subsequently apologized for the remarks.

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