Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt
Rabbi Pinchas GoldschmidtEliran Aharon

Moscow’s former chief rabbi who left Russia after facing increasing pressure to support the invasion of Ukraine said in a new interview that “keeping quiet” about the war was “morally wrong.”

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who led the Jewish community in Moscow for nearly 30 years, told NPR that after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “It was like waking up in a different city, in a different country... It wasn't Moscow as we knew it.”

“We received reports of daily mass arrests and new decrees and new laws which [included] the closing of all the remnants of independent media and the most prominent members of civil society, who were not totally connected to government, just leaving the country,” he said.

With the West united around Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and applying sanctions to Russia, “all this basically told us that we live in a new situation and totally new Russia.”

“In the past by refraining from dealing with politics in general, it was possible to continue to administer the Jewish community, to lead a religious life and with schools and synagogues,” he said. “I understood that in this new reality, this changed reality, the government is going to demand much more from everyone who is still in an official leadership position in the community.”

Rabbi Goldschmidt explained that he initially decided to remain neutral about the war to protect the community, which had received “direct messages” to support the war.

“But as time progressed and I realized that keeping quiet in such circumstances is morally wrong when you have thousands – tens of thousands of Jewish refugees and millions of refugees who have to leave their homes and their hometowns – and to keep quiet would be morally not defensible. So my wife and I, we decided that we – while we cannot talk and speak up while we are still inside Russia, we are going to leave Russia, and we're going to actually help the refugees.”

In June, it was announced that Rabbi Goldschmidt had no plans to return to Moscow after resisting pressure to support Russia's invasion of Ukraine.