At the initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Duma (Russian Parliament) has legislated a law outlawing "distorted and/or extremist" commentary of Scriptures.
The purpose of the unusual law, it is widely understood, is the prevention of cynical advantage being taken of Biblical verses for anti-Semitic purposes.
Russian history has seen many instances in which anti-Semitic elements announced "shocking new revelations" from the Bible and Rabbinic writings to encourage violent anti-Semitism.
Putin, a former KGB agent, has long been known to oppose anti-Semitism, and violent attacks against Jews in his country have in fact been on the decline in recent years. He also conducts warm relations with Israel – even as he does the same with Iran.
Rabbi Berel Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia, said that the law is truly important in the fight against Russian anti-Semitism. He publicly thanked "my friend President Putin who bodily blocks all anti-Semitic phenomena" and the members of the Duma for "proving that Russia respects the beliefs of all its citizens."
Putin's warm relations with the Jewish community in his country have long been a matter of curiosity. Some say it is because of his many Jewish friends and neighbors when he was a child. One story even has it that a Jewish family befriended him when he was a poor child in St Petersburg whose parents were barely ever home. Another story relates that years later, as Vice-Mayor of that city, Putin stuck his neck out to give permission for the opening of a Jewish school in the city, even though it was not in his authority to do so.
In 2012, Putin arrived in Israel to take part in the inauguration of the Victory Monument in the city of Netanya, commemorating the sacrifices of the Red Army on behalf of Jews during World War II. Putin said on that occasion, “I am very excited to be here today…. The Jewish Holocaust was the most shameful and dark event in human history, and the Soviet Army was the one who crushed the head of the Nazi monster… This amazing monument strengthens the respect I feel towards to the Jewish people and the State of Israel."
Clearly, Putin's opposition to anti-Semitism is only one of many aspects of the complex personality and politics of the leader of one of today's world's major superpowers.