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Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations in Russia

(Kongress Evreiskikh Religioznykh Obshchin i Organizatsii v Rossii; KEROOR), post-Soviet association of Jewish groups in Russia. Before 1990 in the Soviet Union, Jews were allowed neither to create a chief rabbinate nor to form a central organ uniting the Jewish religious communities. Under perestroika, however, at a conference of community representatives held in January 1990, the All-Union Council of USSR Jewish Religious Communities (Vsesoiuznyi Sovet Evreiskikh Religioznikh Obshchin SSSR; VSERO) was created. Vladimir Fedorovskii, chair of the Moscow community, was elected chair of its executive committee, and Adol’f Shaevich, chief rabbi of the Moscow Choral Synagogue, was chosen as the chief rabbi of VSERO and the USSR. The newly created central organ was intended to facilitate the coordination of activities of emerging as well as of older religious communities.

After the collapse of the USSR, KEROOR (at one stage called the United Russian Synagogue) became the legal successor to VSERO. The association’s founding conference took place in February 1993, and in July of that year the organization was officially registered. At the February conference, Shaevich was elected chief rabbi of Russia, and Pinḥas Goldschmidt, a Swiss citizen who had been working at the Moscow Choral Synagogue since 1989, was chosen to be chief rabbi of Moscow. Representatives of 28 Orthodox communities, including members of the Lubavitch Hasidic movement (Ḥabad), participated in the conference. The Ḥabad group, however, withdrew from KEROOR in 1995 when at a second conference Reform Jews were admitted to the organization.

KEROOR’s charter limited its membership to organizations that acknowledged the “13 principles of the Jewish faith and halakhah as the basis of Jewish life.” In 1995, a compromise on these provisions made it possible for Reform communities to join KEROOR. The Reform movement in Russia had begun to organize in 1993, when it formed Hineni [Heb., Here I Am]: The Russian Union of Congregations of Progressive Judaism (Rossiiskii Soiuz Ob”edinenii Progressivnogo Iudaizma; RSOPI), headed by Zinovii (Zalman) Kogan, and consisting of more than 30 congregations. In 1998, RSOPI promised not to issue rulings on questions of faith, conversions to Judaism, or divorces. It even agreed to replace the word Progressive with Contemporary—RSOPI thus becoming the Association of Religious Organizations of Contemporary Judaism in Russia (Ob”edinenie Religioznykh Organizatsii Sovremennogo Iudaizma v Rossii; OROSIR).

By 1999, there were 160 Jewish organizations affiliated with KEROOR, including synagogue congregations (more than 60 of the traditional type and more than 30 identifying with the Reform Movement), educational institutions of various levels from Sunday schools to yeshivas, charitable organizations, and cultural centers. KEROOR’s most important member was the Moscow Jewish Religious Society (Moskovskoe Evreiskoe Religioznoe Obshchestvo; MERO), founded in 1991, which oversaw the Moscow Choral Synagogue where KEROOR’s offices were also located.

The situation in the USSR had created a severe shortage of rabbis, so the majority of those working in the country in the 1990s were foreigners. KEROOR devoted many resources to preparing its personnel (rabbis and specialists) to guarantee the functioning of the religious communities; attention was given to the provision of kosher food, burial rites, and other religious needs. KEROOR undertook to supply the Jewish communities with matzot, kosher wine, prayer books, and other religious articles, as well as monetary assistance.

Only a small percentage of Russia’s Jews could be called religious believers, much less Orthodox. KEROOR therefore aimed much of its activity at acquainting the Jewish population with traditions, reviving Jewish (not necessarily religious) communal life, strengthening Jewish self-consciousness, educating the public, and publishing works of Jewish interest.

KEROOR published a prayer book in 1999 called Shema‘ Yisra’el (Hear, O Israel). It also issued calendars, brochures, and booklets on questions of religious life. From 1997 to 1999 its periodical Vestnik KEROOR “Da” (KEROOR Herald “Yes”) was published in Moscow, in five separated issues. It was replaced in 1999 by Shagi (Steps). In the autumn of 1999, OROSIR began publishing its own organ, Rodnik (Spring [of Water]).

KEROOR maintained contact with international Jewish organizations, as well as with organizations representing Russia’s Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Buddhists. In 1997 these religions, along with Judaism, were officially designated “traditional religions in Russia.” KEROOR was also one of the cofounders of the Russian Interfaith Council.

Until 1999, the Russian Jewish Congress (Rossiiskii Evreiskii Kongress; REK) provided KEROOR’s budget. However, when REK president Vladimir Gusinskii clashed with Russian authorities and ultimately left the country, KEROOR experienced financial problems and an adversarial relationship with the government. In November 1999, the Ḥabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement founded a new organization, the Federation of Russian Jewish Communities (Federatsiia Evreiskikh Obshchin Rossii; FEOR), headed by Rabbi Berl Lazar.

A struggle between FEOR and KEROOR resulted, beginning with a dispute over 61 Torah scrolls that had been confiscated by Soviet authorities in the 1920s and 1930s and that were held in archival depositories in Moscow. FEOR demanded the scrolls, which the authorities intended to hand over to KEROOR; as a result just 10 scrolls were actually given to KEROOR. KEROOR then refused to recognize the 2000 election by FEOR of Berl Lazar as chief rabbi of Russia. Although authorities assured Shaevich that both he and Lazar would represent the Russian Jewish community, Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown a marked preference for Lazar and FEOR. This preference, as well as FEOR’s financial superiority, has led many communities (including their synagogue buildings) to leave KEROOR for FEOR. KEROOR and Shaevich have also been excluded from participation in official events and organizations, including a 2001 Kremlin reception for Israeli President Moshe Katsav. Both KEROOR President Boris Shpigel and Shaevich himself have suggested that KEROOR and FEOR unite, but reformists in KEROOR were against this move. In May 2005 Arkadii Gaidamak (Arie Bar-Lev), a billionaire living in France since 1976, was elected president of KEROOR.

Suggested Reading

Semen Charnyi (Tsharnyi), “Rossiiskaia evreiskaia obshchina: Sovremennaia situatsiia,” Evrei Evrazii 1 (2002): 20–24; Pinchas Goldschmidt, “Li-heyot rav ro’shi be-Moskvah,

1996,” Yehude Berit ha-Mo‘atsot ba-ma‘avar 3.18 (1997): 129–136; S. Ia. Kozlov, Iudaizm v sovremennoi Rossii: Osnovnye struktury i napravleniia, Issledovaniia po prikladnoi i neotlozhnoi sotsiologii, 137 (Moscow, 2000); Binyamin Pinkus, “The Jewish Religion in the USSR during the Gorbachev Era: Survival or Renewed Growth?” Shvut 8 [24] (1999): 150–193.



Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson