A majority of Ukrainian rabbis blasted the election of a new chief rabbi as illegitimate.
More than 30 Chabad rabbis affiliated with the Federation of Jewish Communities, the region’s largest Jewish group, issued a statement Sept. 15 saying that the election of another Chabad rabbi, Moshe Reuven Azman of Kiev, to serve as Ukraine’s chief rabbi was “illegitimate” and “insulting to the feelings of every believer.”
A chief rabbi “can be elected only by rabbis working in Jewish communities of that country,” the statement said, referring to the fact that Azman’s election Sept. 11 was endorsed by a group of secular Jewish leaders but not by any rabbinical authorities.
The vast majority of rabbis permanently working in Ukraine these days are Chabad rabbis affiliated with the federation. Unlike other Orthodox rabbis working in Ukraine, Azman, who is Russian-born, is not affiliated with the Chabad-led federation and for years has received support from Vadim Rabinovich, a Ukrainian business magnate and leader of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress who initiated the election for chief rabbi.
The funny thing about all this is the actual, long-serving Chief Rabbi of the Ukraine is Rabbi Yakov Bleich, a New York-born Stoliner hasid who has been living in Kiev for many years. Chabad appointed their own 'chief rabbi' last year and then, after receiving sharp criticism, claimed Rabbi Bleich was still the country's chief rabbi. That truce lasted for several months until the New York Jewish Week referred to Chabad's appointee as "chief rabbi" and ignored Rabbi Bleich. Agudath Israel was silent and Chabad, sensing weakness, immediately went back to referring to their appointee as "chief rabbi." Now Chabad is upset when Ukrainian Jews elect a Chief Rabbi that Chabad – and Agudah – doesn't control. Sad.