Russia’s Chief Rabbi meets with Jewish prisoners in Moscow’s Butyrka

Visit coincides with 10th anniversary of first prison synagogue opening in Russia 

The Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar visited Moscow’s Butyrskaya prison castle and examined the prison synagogue after the repair and maintenance works. He also met with the inmates of the pre-trial detention center who declared their Jewish religion.

There is now a total of seven Jewish prisoners in Moscow’s Detention Center no. 2 of the Federal Corrections Service, more commonly known as Butyrka. When the synagogue opened in 2011, there were 29 Jewish inmates.

“Everyone can experience difficult times and challenges in life. The important thing is how a person perceives them: someone would give up and lose interest in life while another would view it as a phase in life that allows them to prepare for a new rise,” the rabbi told prisoners.

He noted that many righteous Jews, starting with Joseph, one of the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel, were also put into prison. And the dignity with which they endured misadventures gives strength and will to live to inmates at all times and in the most difficult circumstances.

Deputy Head of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia in Moscow, Lieutenant Colonel of the Internal Service Andrei Artemchuk thanked Rabbi Lazar and Rabbi Aaron Gurevich, head of the department of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia for interaction with law enforcement agencies, and the entire Jewish community for active work with prisoners.

“Citizens in isolation should not be deprived of the right to have religious life. What we as law enforcement agencies are not capable of, is done by religious leaders, providing spiritual support to people here,” he said.

Rabbi Gurevich added that over the past 12 years about two hundred Jews have passed through the Butyrskaya prison. 

“It is important that we keep in touch even when they leave the pre-trial detention center, both in the penal colony and after release. All these people have the memory of the synagogue in Butyrka as perhaps the brightest place in this bleak institution; even today they still remember the hours spent studying the Torah,” shared the leader of the department of the FJC in Russia for interaction with law enforcement agencies.

According to the Chief Rabbi’s press office, prisoners were given religious books and the opportunity to fulfill the commandment of laying tefillin. At the end of the meeting, the Chief Rabbi of Russia said he would be glad to see them soon in synagogues and community centers.

“Our body may be in prison, but our soul is always free. A man is where his thoughts are,” reminded Rabbi Lazar and wished detainees a speedy release and correction of mistakes.

The meeting was also attended by the assistant to the head of the Moscow Federal Penitentiary Service for organizing work with believers, Priest Kirill Markovsky.

The visit of Russia’s Chief Rabbi was timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the work of the first synagogue in Russia in a pre-trial detention center.

Photos provided by the press office of the Chief Rabbi of the Russian Federation.

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