Rav Lazar: “It’s Incomprehensible, A Nightmare, It’s Never Been So Difficult Here”

HaRav Berel Lazar (Photo: Levi Nazarov)

Rav Berel Lazar, the Chief Rabbi of Russia, spoke about the difficult situation in Ukraine and Russia in an interview with Yisrael Hayom that was published on Thursday.

“It’s absolutely horrible what’s going on, it’s a nightmare,” Rav Lazar said. “From the first day, we tried to use our connections in order to protect the Jews in Ukraine and the mekomos hakedoshim. There’s deep concern in Russia about the situation in Ukraine, partially because there are many families here with half of their close relatives in Ukraine. Many parents and siblings of shluchim in Russia live in Ukraine. I’m in daily contact with people there – Rabbanim, friends, and acquaintances. We’re trying to assist them as much as possible during this time of crisis – emotionally, financially, and spiritually.”

Rav Lazar said that the Russian authorities understand the complexity of the Jewish community’s situation and are aware that support for Ukrainian Jews is not an expression of political support for one side or the other. “We’re very clear on this. As Rabbanim and leaders of the community, shluchim of the Rebbe, we always say that politics is not part of our job. Politics is not a good occupation for a Jew and there are other things that we need to do – like saving lives. We help every Jew whoever he is and wherever he is. Everyone understands this. If I had a son in Ukraine, I wouldn’t help him because there’s a problem between the two countries? I would do everything I could do and likewise in this situation. The government understands that we must help our brothers and we do so openly.”

Reb Lazar is considered close to Putin so he is caught between a rock and a hard place. “We don’t address the question of who’s right and who’s wrong. There’s an expression in Israel: ‘Don’t be right, be smart.’ We’re not here to judge anyone – that’s not our job. Our job is to be smart in the existing situation and to utilize everything we can to help another Jew. Sometimes it’s possible to save a family with one phone call, to supply more medications, to rescue a Jew via a car. We’re busy with this day and night.”

Reb Lazar said that the work of Chabad shluchim in Ukraine is heroic but he and other Chabad Rabbanim have instructed some of them to leave due to the great danger. “It was very difficult for them because they built a whole kehilla from nothing over 30 years or more and one day they just have to pick up and leave their shlichus.”

Reb Lazar added that the situation in Russia as a result of sanctions is not simple at all, and that’s putting it mildly.

“The situation in Russia is very difficult,” he said. “Baruch Hashem we took it upon ourselves not to close any institutions or stop any activities. On Pesach, we’ll be holding public Sedarim for tens of thousands of Jews. However, the challenge isn’t simple – we’re already feeling it. It seems like this year will be the first year that we won’t have enough matzos for Pesach. Jews are coming non-stop to buy matzah – we’ve never seen anything like it. The moment there are stressful situations, people come to receive support in the kehilla and search for something eternal to connect to. We’re trying to bring in more matzos but the Russian airline has stopped flying so we need to find alternative ways. We’ll do our best to procure matzah for anyone who wants it.”

“There’s never been such a difficult situation in Russia like there is today,” Rav Lazar stressed. “We’ve been through many challenges here. There’s been revolutions, difficult economic conditions – but there’s never been something of this magnitude. It’s incomprehensible. I keep trying to convince myself that this isn’t a dream, that it’s real and it’s actually happening.”

“Just a few months ago, I made a wedding for my daughter in Moscow with over 1,000 guests. No one dreamed we would reach such a situation, even in our worst nightmares.”

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)


  1. Rav Lazer says that Jews are suffering because they don’t have enough Matza for Pesach. Nothing about the murder and suffering of thousands of Ukraines. If he’s afraid of Putin why not just say nothing.

  2. @run1837 have you considered that if he speaks out more directly than this his life would be forfeited?
    By saying this, he allows everyone to know that he is not supporting Putin and letting you figure out the rest.
    That being said, there is a machlokes that goes back generations on what the appropriate response to such situations is, and I am not qualified to speak.

  3. Run1837, first of all war is not murder. The Torah endorses a king’s right to go to war, and Putin is definitely a king.

    Second, most of the article is about the suffering of the Jews in the Ukraine from the war conditions. That is not something to blame Putin for, but it’s something we must help them with, and he is doing that.

    Third, if you’re talking about the suffering of the Ukranians, rather than the Jews who live among them, that is NONE OF OUR BUSINESS. The Ukranians deserve everything they are getting, and we should not lift a finger to protest.

    Fourth, Chabad does not get involved in politics. That has been the policy for over 100 years. The previous Rebbe said the movement is “bezparteine” — nonpartisan. Who is right or wrong in the war is a political question and therefore Chabad does not take a position.

    fakenews, he is not supporting Putin but he’s also not opposing him. As he said, he’s not getting involved in politics. What his own thoughts are neither you nor I know. He may well privately support Russia, but as a Chabad shliach that is not a position he can take publicly. But either way, the main thing is to help the Jews who are caught in the middle, without regard to their opinions or anyone else’s.

  4. While it is a hard question about working with the malchus rashia to help Jews there, this is a bad turn of phrase
    >> to protect the Jews in Ukraine and the mekomos hakedoshim.
    equating protecting graves with protecting Jews from falling into graves from bombs of your benefactor.

    The question is about working for the benefits of Jews in Shushan (other than helping them to run away) … They are currently free to leave, many left before. So, those who still stay, or came back after living in other places, do we still wait for them to do teshuva?