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Jewish Split Widens With 2 Chief Rabbis

The politically charged rift among the Jewish community widened Tuesday after an ultra-orthodox group elected its own chief rabbi of Russia f making Russia rare in having two competing chief rabbis.

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, or FEOR, elected Berl Lazar as chief rabbi of Russia, deepening a conflict between FEOR and mainstream orthodox and reform Jewish groups f which said they will continue to recognize Adolph Shayevich as chief rabbi of Russia.

Earlier this month, Shayevich accused the Kremlin of meddling in Jewish affairs and picking FEOR f seen as an alternative to Media-MOST owner Vladimir Gusinsky's Russian Jewish Congress f as its favorite among several umbrella Jewish organizations.

Gusinsky was detained Tuesday by the Prosecutor General's Office on charges of grand theft and corruption.

"I don't understand why there was the need to elect a second chief rabbi of Russia," Shayevich said in an interview Tuesday. "It seems to be political games rather than religion."

Later Tuesday, Shayevich said he felt that Gusinsky's arrest and the FEOR vote were somehow connected.

These two events are "obviously part of one grand campaign," he said in remarks reported by Interfax.

FEOR has been seen as an alternative to Gusinsky's congress and has appeared to have the support of Boris Berezovsky, a Kremlin insider and Gusinsky's rival in the media business.

Dozens of Lubavitcher rabbis clapped rhythmically and sang Tuesday when it was announced that 25 rabbis had voted to make Lazar, 36, chief rabbi of Russia.

"For the first time in history, a chief rabbi of Russia is elected," said Borukh Gorin, the FEOR spokesman.

"Perhaps, everybody thinks that I am very grateful, it is quite the opposite," Lazar said. "It is not an honor, it is a responsibility."

Shayevich complained in a letter to Putin in late May about pressure from FEOR to step down in favor of Lazar.

In an interview Tuesday, Shayevich denied that he also received calls from the Kremlin but confirmed that Lubavitcher leaders were invited to Kremlin receptions.

Last week, FEOR leaders said they did not intend to elect a new rabbi at what was billed as a "unification" congress and the issue was not on the congress' official agenda.

However, once the issue was raised at the congress, "a difficult but wise decision was made to resolve it without delay," said FEOR president Mikhail Gluz.

Several Jewish leaders said earlier this month that they saw the conflict as a spillover of the Kremlin's attack on Gusinsky, whose Media-MOST media empire was raided by tax police in early May.

Shayevich and other non-Lubavitcher Jewish leaders had been invited to the congress but did not come, Gorin said. Russian Jewish Congress leaders were not invited, he said.

He also said Lazar was given Russian citizenship "about a month ago." Last week, Lazar said he was a U.S. citizen.

Pinchas Goldschmidt, chief rabbi of Moscow, said Tuesday his community will not recognize Lazar's new title. "There has to be a consensus of religious and secular Jews" for the election of chief rabbi, he said.

He also said he expected a negative reaction from the Conference of European Rabbis and rabbinical authorities of Israel.

Mikhail Chlenov, a veteran Jewish leader and chairman of VAAD umbrella organization, which unites both secular and religious groups, said Tuesday that FEOR's vote "does not change anything and cannot cause anything but laughter." Lazar was simply elected "chief Lubavitcher rabbi of Russia, which he had been before anyway," Chlenov said.

"They could have elected him even chief rabbi of the globe and its surroundings, nothing comes out of it," said Alexander Osovtsov, vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress.

Mainstream Jews say only a small percentage of Russian Jews are Lubavitchers. FEOR says it represents the majority of Russian religious Jewish groups.

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