Forward Thinking

Does Takeover of Crimea Mean Messiah Is Near?

By Sigal Samuel

Getty Images

Most of the Jewish and general world is fuming over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Crimea. But some ultra-Orthodox Jews are positively delighted by it.

This week, Grand Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch, the vice president of Israel’s Rabbinical Court and a descendant of the revered rabbi known as the Vilna Gaon (aka “Genius of Vilnius”), announced to his disciples that Putin’s actions are a sure sign that the Messiah is on his way.

Apparently, Shternbuch heard this secret prediction from Rabbi Yitzchak Chever, who heard it from Rabbi Chaim of Volozhyn, who heard it from the Vilna Gaon himself, who said shortly before his death:

When you hear that the Russians have captured the city of Crimea, you should know that the times of the Messiah have started, that his steps are being heard. And when you hear that the Russians have reached the city of Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), you should put on your Shabbat clothes and don’t take them off, because it means that the Messiah is about to come any minute.

Shternbuch’s pronouncement, which was reported this weekend in the ultra-Orthodox press in Israel, has some Haredi Jews working themselves into a messianic frenzy. A few, like this rabbi, are even going so far as to say that “we owe a note of thanks” to Putin for hastening the coming of the Messiah.

Read more


How to See the Schneersohn Library Online

By Paul Berger

You don’t have to fly all the way to Moscow to view the Schneersohn Library.

After almost a century in the bowels of Russian’s state library, the Schneersohn books are available online for anyone around the world to see.

You can view the books in a web browser or even, in many cases, download them as a pdf.

Because the Russian State Library’s website is clunky in Russian — and even clunkier in English — I thought it might be helpful to give non-Russian speakers a few tips.

To view the complete catalogue of the Schneersohn books follow this link.

To view a book, click on the number on the left of the screen.

In the next window, click on the link next to the words «Эл. адрес»

Next, you need to click the box on the bottom left of the screen to continue.

On the next screen, select “Онлайн-просмотр” to view the book online or “Acrobat Reader” to view the book as a pdf.

Finally, click the “открыть документ” button at the bottom of the screen to view your book!

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger

Read more


Sochi's Olympic Games Are a Missed Opportunity

By Gal Beckerman

An activist wearing a mask of Russian President Vladimir Putin joins protesters on the opening day of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. / Getty Images

As the winter Olympics open today, there has been a crescendo of condemnation in the West of Russia’s many human rights violations. Sadly, in spite of all the attention Vladimir Putin’s discriminatory policies toward gays and lesbians and the environment of violent homophobia have received, the situation has not gotten any better. We published our editorial on Sochi back in November with the hope that the International Olympic Committee and sponsors like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s or the large network covering the event, NBC, might try and apply some pressure on Russia. But sadly that has not happened, and with the exception of a few token words from Putin, gays and lesbians feel even more embattled now just as the parade of athletes begins.

Read more


Now They Come for the Gays

By Sharon Kleinbaum and Yelena Goltsman

The Jewish community should feel a sense of déjà vu as it witnesses the government-sponsored persecution of LGBT people in Russia. We should respond with a statement of determination nearly as familiar to us as the Shema: Never again.

In the 1960s, with our awareness of the Holocaust very fresh in our memory, American Jews took seriously Soviet scapegoating of Russian Jewry and the efforts to destroy the Russian Jewish community. In 2013, in Putin’s Russia, gays are the new Jews.

In his assault on democratic institutions in Russia, Vladimir Putin is counting on xenophobia, homophobia, anti-Western and anti-immigrant sentiments to turn the Russian people against anybody perceived to be different. Government-run media supports these policies. The precious few independent media outlets cannot compete with Putin’s huge propaganda machine. This, along with the infamous new law banning the spread of “nontraditional sexual relations,” all but silences LGBT people in Russia.

Act Up’s slogan “Silence = Death” comes from recent U.S. history, when coming out and speaking out were essential to changing public views of homosexuality and to mobilizing response to the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s. If you are gay in Russia in 2013, it is no longer lawful to affirm who you are, even in front of your own children.

Read more


Russian Jewish Region's 'Gay' Flag Is Kosher!

By Anne Cohen

The Kremlin’s self-styled flag experts have declared that the flag of Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region —which bears an uncanny resemblance to the rainbow gay pride symbol — is in fact 100% kosher, Buzzfeed World reported.

The flag, designed in 1996 for the Birobidzhan region, boasts colorful stripes on a white background. It was under review for its possible violation of Russia’s ban on LGBT propaganda.

“Regarding the similarity of this flag with the symbol of the gay movement, we explain that not every rainbow image is linked to sexual orientation,” Georgy Vilinbakhov, a Kremlin advisor, wrote in a letter published by local website EAOMedia.ru.

“Obviously, the above described flag, the flag of the Jewish Autonomous Region, whose foundation is a white cloth, has nothing to do with that,” he wrote. “This flag does not contradict the current law of the Russian Federation and so there is no basis to cancel or change it.”

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast, or region, was designated by Stalinist Soviet authorities in 1934 as a “Jewish socialist republic.”

Interviewed by the same local outlet, the flag’s creator, Alexander Valyaev defended his design. “On its flag the gay movement uses seven stripes, not six,” he pointed out. “The rainbow is a divine symbol, taken from the Bible. God threw the rainbow from the sky into the wilderness of the desert as a symbol of hope.”

Read more


The Deadly Identity Crisis Along Islam's Borders

By J.J. Goldberg

FBI

In the first few days after the Boston bombings, liberal pundits (like David Sirota, Cenk Uygur and Michael Shure) were hoping aloud that the perpetrators would turn out to be “white” rather than Muslim or Middle Eastern, so that the incident wouldn’t further inflame grass-roots anti-Muslim passions. Well, it looks like this was a twofer — perpetrators who turn out to be both Muslim and white, ethnic Chechens from the Caucasus region of South Russia. You can’t get much more Caucasian than that.

There’s much we still don’t know about the Tsarnaev brothers, including whether or not they actually were responsible for the April 15 bombing at the Boston Marathon. Given the volume of evidence visible so far, though, it’s not too soon to start drawing some lessons. In fact, we might as well start right away, because this incident just might force us to reconsider a lot of what we think we know about jihad terrorism and the larger questions of radical “Islamism” and politicized religion in general.

The fact that the brothers are ethnic Chechens is critical. It’s probably important, too, that they spent most of their lives growing up outside the boundaries of Chechnya. It seems pretty clear that the brothers were raised to value their Chechen identity as central to their sense of self. And yet they were strangers to Chechnya. Even before they came to America in 2003, they lived mostly in nearby Dagestan and Kyrgyzstan, both of them Muslim-majority ex-Soviet republics, where the Tsarnaevs were part of an outsider ethnic-Chechen minority. So while the brothers reportedly felt like outsiders in America—claimed they didn’t have American friends, didn’t “understand Americans,” even after living here a full decade—they were also outsiders to Chechnya. They belonged to both, and yet neither.

Now look at the map. Chechnya is a rough Muslim region in the Caucasus Mountains, wedged between Christian Georgia to its south and Christian Russia to its north, with fellow-Muslim regions of Ingushetia to the west and Dagestan to the east. It’s been at war with its Russian overlords on and off for close to two centuries, but the wars of the last two decades, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, have been particularly bloody. The core of the conflict is independence. It had little to do with religion, other than the fact that religion — mostly the moderate Sufi version of Islam — is a big part of what defines Chechen ethnicity. Radical Salafi preachers with a loose connection to Al Qaeda started showing up only in the last decade or so, accompanying foreign Muslim volunteers who came to join the fight.

Read more


Secrets of the Schneerson Library

By Paul Berger

Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s predecessor, Yosef Yitchok Schneersohn, may have had too modern a taste in literature. That may be one reason why Chabad is so anxious to have the famed Schneerson Library returned to the U.S.

Why does Chabad want the Schneerson Library back so badly?

While researching this week’s story recounting the latest twists in Chabad’s decades-long struggle for the library, several people offered various explanations. Somehow, they seemed too speculative to include in the story — but interesting enough to raise here.

Rabbi Berel Levin, the chief librarian of the Chabad Library in Brooklyn, told me that Chabad has 250,000 books at its HQ in Crown Heights. But the thousands of books held in Moscow are, according to Levin, the “core of our library, gathered by the Rebbes of the generations.”

Levin said the books in Moscow are written mainly in Hebrew, and deal mostly in Torah, Gemara and Kabbalah. But because the Soviets and Russians never catalogued the library no one really knows for sure. Even the total number of books in the library is disputed. Russia claims there are about 4,000 volumes, Chabad says the number is closer to 10,000 volumes.

Pinchas Goldschmidt, a Moscow rabbi who has a contentious history with Chabad, said that for the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the battle for the library was about much more than ownership and theology. It was about politics and, perhaps, about something more.

“Maimonides spoke of the Messiah as king,” Goldschmidt said. And Schneerson, who died in 1994, wanted to show the world that he had fought like a king and “won against Communism.”

Read more


Hidden Victims of Russia's Adoption Ban

By Susan Armitage

I used to see them fairly often in airports, nicer hotels or restaurants. Living in Eastern Europe, first as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine and later working for a non-profit in Russia, I’d become adept at spotting other Americans in public.

I sized them up, taking into account the color and style of their clothing, their footwear, and the snatches of conversation I overheard: Businessman? NGO worker? Diplomat? Missionary?

There was one group of Americans whose reason for being in Russia was much easier to guess. With strollers in tow, they were on the final leg of an international adoption journey, preparing to bring a Russian child home.

When I read about Russia’s recent ban on adoptions by U.S. citizens, I couldn’t help but think of these families, as well as the children I’ve met in Russian orphanages, and the little Tatianas, Sergeys and Svetlanas I got to know, on paper at least, during my brief stint processing post-adoption reports at a U.S. child assistance foundation.

The reports showed pictures of Russian kids, sometimes with new names like Jessica or Jacob, celebrating the Fourth of July, playing soccer and blowing out birthday candles with their American siblings. But as these adoptive families build new traditions together, most do want their Russian children to know where they came from.

Read more


UK Report: 10.8 Degree F Warming by 2100

By J.J. Goldberg

The Guardian cites a new report from Price Waterhouse Cooper Consulting saying the world is on track for an average global temperature increase of 6 degrees C (10.8 F) by the end of the century at current rates of carbon emission, with catastrophic implications for human life.

New research by consultancy giant PwC finds an unprecedented 5.1 per cent annual cut in global emissions per unit of GDP, known as carbon intensity, is needed through to 2050 if the world is to avoid the worst effects of climate change and meet an internationally agreed target of limiting average temperature increases to just two degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Such deep reductions in carbon intensity would be over six times greater than the 0.8 per cent average annual cuts achieved since 2000.

The report also confirms that greatest rises in greenhouse gas emissions came from the emerging E7 economies of China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Indonesia and Turkey, whose cumulative 7.4 per cent annual increase in emissions swamped record levels of reductions in the UK, France, and Germany.

PwC warns sustained economic growth in these countries could “lock in” high carbon assets that will make it significantly harder for them to decarbonise over the coming decades, a point likely to be raised at the UN-backed Doha Climate Summit when it kicks off later this month.

It also warns that industrialised countries must accelerate their partially successful efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Read more


The Losers in Russia's Adoption Ban

By Susan Armitage

I used to see them fairly often in airports, nicer hotels or restaurants. Living in Eastern Europe, first as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine and later working for a non-profit in Russia, I’d become adept at spotting other Americans in public.

I sized them up, taking into account the color and style of their clothing, their footwear, and the snatches of conversation I overheard: Businessman? NGO worker? Diplomat? Missionary?

There was one group of Americans whose reason for being in Russia was much easier to guess. With strollers in tow, they were on the final leg of an international adoption journey, preparing to bring a Russian child home.

When I read about Russia’s recent ban on adoptions by U.S. citizens, I couldn’t help but think of these families, as well as the children I’ve met in Russian orphanages, and the little Tatianas, Sergeys and Svetlanas I got to know, on paper at least, during my brief stint processing post-adoption reports at a U.S. child assistance foundation.

The reports showed pictures of Russian kids, sometimes with new names like Jessica or Jacob, celebrating the Fourth of July, playing soccer and blowing out birthday candles with their American siblings. But as these adoptive families build new traditions together, most do want their Russian children to know where they came from.

Read more


The Cossacks Are on the Rise Again. For Real.

By J.J. Goldberg

Time magazine has one of the scariest news reports I’ve read in a while. It seems the Cossacks are on the rise again. No, not figuratively — literally. The fanatically religious pan-Slavic paramilitary tribe that terrorized your great-grandmother’s great-grandmother in the old country is recruiting, operating youth training camps, running for office (successfully) in Russia and Ukraine and agitating for a reunification of Belarus and Ukraine with Mother Russia, all with the active encouragement of Russia’s prime minister, ex-president and permanent strongman, Vladimir Putin.

The Ukrainian government is fighting them, because they threaten Ukrainian independence, but Russia and Belarus are both encouraging them, Time’s Simon Shuster (that’s his name, not his publisher) reports. He visited a training camp for teenage boys in Crimea and interviewed their leader, General Viktor Vodolatsky, a former plumber and a member of parliament for the United Russia party, which is chaired by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Their latest graduates — some of them Cossacks by birth, others newly initiated — took in their commander’s speech on Aug. 10 with all the requisite decorum. “The unification of the Slavic state is the guarantee of our future,” Vodolatsky told them. “And the children who stand beneath these Cossack banners are ideologically pure, physically strong and secure in their faith. Now you must serve as an example to the youth in whatever town you come from.”

There was a major violent clash in July between an organized band of Cossacks and a large force of police in a Ukrainian city where Cossacks erected a metal cross in front of city hall without a permit.

“These actions send an effective message, and we will continue them,” said Vitaly Khramov, one of Ukraine’s most prominent Cossack elders. “We want them to understand that the state of Ukraine is a stillborn project, a tumor that Ukrainians must extract from themselves … We are the immunity against this disease.” As the head of Sobol, the radical Cossack battalion whose flags adorned the training camp last week, Khramov is one of the movement’s key ideologues in Ukraine, and his preaching has reached many of the boys who attend the Cossack camps. (Among the ideas he spouted during his interview with TIME were the notions that the U.S. is a satanic nation secretly run by the Rockefeller family, that Jews practice ritual sacrifice and necrophilia, and that Vladimir Putin, Khramov’s political hero, is a future saint of the Russian Orthodox Church.)

Here is Time’s photo gallery from inside the training camp.

Read more



Would you like to receive updates about new stories?






















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.