No Sects, Please, We’re Russian

Russian Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar has called for religious sects to be banned:

Reports available to us suggest that more than one million Russian citizens are members of various sects. This is a serious threat. We shouldn’t sit back and wait until something bad happens. We don’t need such sects.

Lazar had previously given lukewarm support to the Moscow ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses, who soon will not be able to worship even in private:

there are serious questions about the practice of the Jehovists in Russia; for example, it is completely impermissible that ministers of the faith to force children to cut off relations with their parents if they are not members of the same religious  society.

Perhaps Lazar hasn’t heard Martin Niemöller’s famous poem “First they came for the Communists”. His comments are also somewhat ironic given that Lazar is a Lubavitcher, an ultra-orthodox Jewish group that some see as the JWs of Judaism. Meanwhile, alternative Chief Rabbi Adolf Shayevich (1) has called on ISKCON to relocate from Moscow to distant Kamchatcha:

When young people with an unmistakably Slavic appearance shave their heads like Krishna followers and put on the robes of Hindu ascetics, it looks artificial to other people. Why should such things appear today if nothing of this nature has ever been on Russian soil?

However, one shouldn’t be too critical. Clearly fearful of anti-Semitism, Jewish leaders are being careful to show that they fit into Russian society. The main force behind the banning of particular religious groups is, of course, the Russian Orthodox Church. Obviously, it makes no sense to try to get more converts in a religious free market when you can just persecute your opposition. Especially recalling that the JWs chose to suffer in gulags under Stalin rather than compromise and allow half their leadership to get infiltrated by the KGB.


(1) Shayevich was ousted as Chief Rabbi by a Lubavitcher lobby supported by the Kremlin, but he is still recognised by many Orthodox Jews inside Russia and by The Conference of European Rabbis. See here.