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Berel Lazar

Rabbi Berel Lazar
Lazar meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 3, 2005.
Position Chief Rabbi of Russia
Organisation Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia
Began June 13, 2000
Predecessor Adolf Shayevich
Personal details
Born (1964-05-19) May 19, 1964
Milan, Italy
Denomination Orthodox Judaism
Dynasty Chabad Lubavitch
Spouse Channa Deren
Children 12: Bluma, Yechezkel, Menachem, Fradel, Shalom, Yisrael, Levi Yitzchak, Sara, Bracha, Rivka, Miriam, Shaina
Alma mater Rabbinical College of America

Rabbi Shalom Dovber Pinchas Lazar (born May 19, 1964), better known as Berel Lazar, is an Orthodox, Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic rabbi. He is Chief Rabbi of Russia, and chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia and Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS. In September 2005 Lazar became a member of the Public Chamber of Russia.


  • Biography 1
  • Family 2
  • Controversy 3
    • Darkei Shalom synagogue 3.1
    • Criticism of Reform Judaism 3.2
  • Views 4
    • Interfaith dialogue 4.1
  • Awards 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


A native of Milan, Italy, Rabbi Lazar was born in 1964 to parents who were among the first emissaries of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Until the age of 15, he studied in Milan’s Merkaz Jewish Day School. Afterwards, he went on to study in New York and pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in religious studies at the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, New Jersey. At the age of 23, he was ordained at the Central Lubavitch Yeshiva in New York.[1]

Since 1990 Berel Lazar has been Rabbi of the synagogue in Maryina Roshcha District of Moscow.

In 1992 Lazar became acquainted with Israeli diamantaire Lev Leviev, who introduced him to Russian businessmen Boris Berezovsky and Roman Abramovich. The latter became the major benefactor of the synagogue in Maryina Roshcha.

In 1992, Lazar was appointed chairman of the Rabbinical Alliance of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

In early 1990s Lazar participated in activity of Russian Jewish Congress in 1996 and even was a member of RJC Presidium.

In 1997 he helped establish the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS representing Chabad communities in 15 countries of the former Soviet Union.

At the first congress of Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia opened on November 15, 1999 he was elected chief Rabbi of FJCR. According to many analytics, FJCR structure was created as counterbalance to the Russian Jewish Congress (headed by Vladimir Gusinsky) and CJROAR (chief Rabbi — Adolf Shayevich). In the same month Berel Lazar had his first meeting with Vladimir Putin.

He wasn't at Vladimir Putin's inauguration in May 2000, which was apparently related to the fact that he wasn't a citizen of Russia at the time.

On May 29, 2000 Berel Lazar became a citizen of Russia, while retaining his U.S. citizenship.

On June 13, 2000 at the "all-Jews congress" (of 87 communities at the place, 70 represented FJCR, 4 — Federation of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Russia (Va’ad)) 25 of 26 Rabbis elected Berel Lazar Chief Rabbi of Russia.

On September 18, 2000, in the presence of President of Russia Vladimir Putin, the Moscow Jewish Community Center was opened in Maryina Roshcha District, where on December 21, 2000 Vladimir Putin and Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov lit Hanukkah candles.

In 2000, Berel Lazar was appointed to Russia's Council for Coordination of Religious Associations. In 2002, Lazar was elected the Chairman of the Rabbinical Council of the World Congress of Russian Jewry.

On January 23, 2001 he participated in the official meeting with President of Israel Moshe Katsav in the Kremlin.

On March 20, 2001 under instruction of the President Vladimir Putin, Berel Lazar was included in the Presidential Council for Interaction with Religious Organizations and Unions; simultaneously Shayevich was excluded from the Council.

According to both the Russian government and the Federation of Jewish Communities he is the Chief Rabbi of Russia.[1]


Wife — Channa Deren, citizen of the U.S.

Children - 13: Bluma (married on June 16, 2011 to Isaac Rosenfeld from Bogota, Colombia), Yechezkel, Menachem, Shalom, Fradel, Yisrael, Levi Yitzchak, Leah, Sara, Bracha, Rivka, Miriam, Shaina.

His grandfather was the poet Zvi Yair, rabbi Zvi Meir Steinmetz.


Since the installation of Rabbi Lazar as the Chief Rabbi of Russia by the Federation of Jewish Communities there have been a number of controversies associated with Federation influence with president Vladimir Putin, and their funding from various Russian oligarchs, including Lev Leviev and Roman Abramovich.[2] Lazar is known for his close ties to Putin's Kremlin.[3]

Putin became close to the Federation after a number of Jewish oligarchs and rabbis including Vladimir Gusinsky (the founder of the Russian Jewish Congress), backed other candidates for president. Lev Leviev, a Federation oligarch[4] supported Putin, and the close relationship between them led to him supporting the federation nomination of Lazar as Chief Rabbi of Russia, an appointment that Putin immediately recognized.[5] Rabbi Adolf Shayevich, who had been Chief Rabbi of Russia until 1998, argues that Lazar is only an appointee of the Federation and that he remains Chief Rabbi. What happened, he explains, "has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with politics and business. The president invites him to receptions and does not invite me. I am not offended."[2]

According to an editorial in the [6]

Darkei Shalom synagogue

The Darkei Shalom synagogue is a synagogue in northern Moscow. It was affiliated with Chamah, a religious and social welfare movement on behalf of former Soviet Jews with offices in New York and Israel, as well as Moscow. The spiritual leader of Darkei Shalom, Rabbi Dovid Karpov, is a devotee of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, yet over the years he has distanced himself from FJCR, the Chabad rabbinical group in Russia that appointed and is headed by Lazar. Karpov was telephoned by Lazar telling him that the synagogue was being gifted to the Chabad movement by its owners and that he would have to leave the synagogue, and resign his post to make way for the a new Chabad emissary.[7] Lazar suggested that if he fell into line with FJCR he may be allowed to stay. At the same time Karpov received court orders over various technical and administrative issues, which Karpov argued were due to Lazar pressuring Karpov. In an open letter to Lazar, rabbi Adolf Shayevich and 16 other rabbis wrote:[7]

Shayevich added in a statement to the press that "they already have too much money and power, and are using it to destroy all Jewish organizations which resist Chabad’s total domination of Russian Jewish life."[7] [8]

Criticism of Reform Judaism

Lazar is highly critical of Reform Judaism and related Progressive strands of the religion. A 2005 article penned by Lazar in Lechaim, "Do Not Bargain With God, Gentlemen", stated that Reform Judaism "cannot be seriously called a religion", and made clear his hope for the deprecation or disappearance of Reform-sourced efforts in Russia and the CIS. The article was criticized by Rabbi Eric Yoffie (president of the Union for Reform Judaism), stating that Lazar "cannot request American Jewish support for his work and profess to speak in the name of all Russian Jews while simultaneously proclaiming that Reform Judaism is not Judaism and Reform rabbis are not rabbis."[9]


Interfaith dialogue

Rabbi Lazar is an advocate of interfaith dialogue and sits on the Board of World Religious Leaders for The Elijah Interfaith Institute.[10]


In 2004, Russian President

  • Page One article from The Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2007
  • Biography in Lentapedia (in Russian)
  • Official Facebook page

External links

  1. ^ a b c d e f Federation of Jewish Communities Website, Biography of Lazar
  2. ^ a b No love lost, Yossi Mehlman, Haaretz, December 11, 2005
  3. ^ Chabad Prize to Putin Spurring Debate Over Russian's Actions, Eric J. Greenberg, The Forward, February 4, 2005
  4. ^ , Phyllis Berman Lea Goldman, September 15, 2003Cracked De Beers
  5. ^ Putin, Making a Gesture to Jews, Slips Into a Factional Morass, Michael Wines, New York Times, September 19, 2000
  6. ^ Editorial, Jerusalem Post, June 2, 2005
  7. ^ a b c Hostile Takeover In Moscow? Critics of Chabad-led umbrella group angry as shul changes hands; AJCongress dragged into controversy, Walter Ruby, Jewish Week, April 1, 2005
  8. ^ Critics of Chabad-led umbrella group angry as shul changes hands; AJCongress dragged into controversy, Walter Ruby, Jewish Week, April 1, 2005
  9. ^ Insult from Russian chief rabbi puts Chabad-Reform dispute in public eye
  10. ^ The Elijah Interfaith Institute - Jewish Members of the Board of World Religious Leaders
  11. ^ Chabad Prize to Putin Spurring Debate Over Russian's Actions


At the sixtieth anniversary commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz at the concentration camp, Putin gave a speech. His speech was followed by Lazar awarding Putin the so-called Salvation medal as a symbol of "the Jewish people's gratitude" to Russia for liberating the camp.[11]

[1] In September 2005, he received the 'Peter the Great' First Class Order. The diploma attached to the Order explains that the Chief Rabbi was honored with this award "considering his activities in advancing inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations, and his great contribution to the spiritual rebirth of Russia’s Jewish community and to strengthening Russian state".[1]

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