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Jewish Journal

Dueling Ukranian Rabbis

by Jewish Journal Staff

October 27, 2005 | 8:00 pm

It's nice to see Judaism make a comeback in the former Soviet Union, but this is ridiculous. Ukraine now has three dueling chief rabbis amid a hopelessly divided Jewish community -- creating a spiritual bottleneck that also is filled with political intrigue.

Who do they think they are? American Jews?

The newest chief rabbi is Moshe Reuven Azman, 39, who critics say was installed in a contested election by media magnate Vadim Rabinovich, who wants to enhance his influence with President Viktor Yuschenko. Azman had been a helpful supporter of the "Orange Revolution" that elevated Yuschenko to power. (Many other rabbis had landed on the wrong side, having supported Yuschenko's Russian-backed opponent.)

Then there's Yakov Dov Bleich, a U.S.-born rabbi who has been widely recognized as chief rabbi of both Kiev and Ukraine since 1992. Bleich, 41, a pioneer of Jewish renaissance in post-Communist Ukraine, was never properly elected, yet he has shown no intention of giving up the post.

Ukrainian Jews got another chief rabbi in 2003 when Soviet-born, Brussels-based Azriel Haikin, 75, was proclaimed chief rabbi by dozens of Chabad rabbis working for the Federation of Jewish Communities, the region's largest Jewish group.

"It's impossible to consolidate the Jewish community in this situation when every two to three years we have a new chief rabbi of Ukraine," said Ilya Levitas of the Jewish Council of Ukraine.

Not to mention that the existing chief rabbis have declined to retire.

Could it be the America's next hit reality series -- "Dueling Ukranian Rabbis?" Who will be voted off -- or thrown off -- the bimah? Or would it just seem too familiar to folks watching at home.

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