Chief Rabbi Flees Russia After Being Pressured to Support Ukraine Invasion

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow, has fled the country after refusing to support the war in Ukraine, said New York-based journalist Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, the rabbi's daughter-in-law.

"Moscow Chief Rabbi @PinchasRabbi & Rebbetzin Dara Goldschmidt, have been put under pressure by authorities to publicly support the 'special operation' in Ukraine - and refused," Chizhik-Goldschmidt wrote on Twitter.

A story published by the French newspaper Le Figaro described how the Swiss-born Goldschmidt left the country. He was not surprised when the war, called a "special military operation" in Russia, broke out, the newspaper reported.

According to the report, Goldschmidt contacted the Israeli ambassador in Chisinau, Moldova's capital, four days before the invasion began. On February 21, the rabbi reportedly wrote dispositions for the diplomat to take care of the Ukrainian refugees who would have certainly flooded to the neighboring country.

Goldschmidt told Le Figaro that at the time U.S. President Joe Biden had announced that Russia was planning to attack Ukraine, while Russia's President Vladimir Putin denied that an invasion of Ukraine was imminent. The rabbi said he believed the American president over Putin.

Chief Rabbi Moscow
Pinchas Goldschmidt, the chief rabbi of Moscow and chairman of the conference of European Rabbis, has reportedly left Moscow after being pressured by the Kremlin to support the "special military operation" in Ukraine. In this photo, Goldschmidt speaks during a press conference on May 30, 2011 with other religious leaders after a meeting to discuss rights and democracy at EU headquarters in Brussels. GEORGES GOBET/AFP via Getty Images

The 58-year-old rabbi had been in Moscow since 1989, after leaving his native Zurich. He became chief rrabbi of Moscow in 1993 and president of the Conference of the European Rabbis (CER) in 2011. In 2010, he became a Russian citizen.

After the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Le Figaro reported that the rabbi was pressured by the Kremlin and Russia's security services to publicly express his support for the "special military operation" in Ukraine. Goldschmidt refused.

Chizhik-Goldschmidt said Goldschmidt and his wife traveled to Hungary only two weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.

"They are now in exile from the community they loved, built & raised their children in, over 33 years — though he was re-elected today by the МЕРО community," Chizhik-Goldschmidt wrote.

From Hungary, the couple reportedly traveled through Eastern Europe before reaching Jerusalem, where the rabbi's father was hospitalized at the time.

"The pain & fear in our family the last few months is beyond words," Chizhik-Goldschmidt wrote on Twitter.

"The sounds of the Moscow Choral Synagogue ring in our ears...I'll never forget our engagement there in '14, & taking our children there, Shavuos '18...Grateful our parents are safe; worried sick over many others..."

Goldsmith was re-elected as Moscow's chief rabbi for another seven-year term in a vote in the Russian capital's great synagogue on Tuesday night, according to a statement by the Conference of European Rabbis.

It's unclear if the rabbi, now in exile, will return to Moscow.

The Moscow Times quoted a spokesman for Russia's chief rabbi Berel Lazar, who told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he is not aware of any pressure on Jewish leaders to endorse the war.

"It would be surprising to learn that Rabbi Goldschmidt was being pressured," he reportedly said.

Newsweek reached out to the Kremlin's press office for comment.