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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Jewish Group Gets Status Boost

Deepening a rift between two Jewish groups vying for influence in the country, the Culture Ministry signed an agreement Monday boosting the status of the smaller, upstart group.

The new Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, founded in November, is seen as favored by the Kremlin but representing only a minority of the Jewish community. The Culture Ministry agreement officially recognizes the group and raises its status to equal that of the older and larger Russian Jewish Congress.

The agreement came after a contested election last week of former New York resident Berl Lazar as chief rabbi of Russia, which triggered accusations of Kremlin meddling in Jewish affairs.

The agreement followed the arrest of media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, president of the Russian Jewish Congress. He was arrested in connection with business dealings unrelated to his Jewish charitable work and released Friday.

The agreement allows the new federation a say in the use of Jewish cultural valuables such as manuscripts and historic synagogues, according to Mikhail Gluz, president of the federation.

It does not override a similar agreement signed in the early 1990s with the Russian Jewish Congress, said Alexei Barkhatov, director of the Culture Ministry's consulting department.

Both groups will be consulted on important questions, he said. "The ministry does not interfere in confessional affairs," he said. "We have an agreement with two independent organizations."

But Adolf Shayevich, the nation's chief rabbi since the 1980s, insisted again Monday that he remains the only legitimate head of the nation's Jewish religious community and said he objects to the government's allowing a minority group to represent them.

Shayevich represents mainstream Orthodox Jews in Russia, while Lazar heads the ultra-orthodox Chabad Lubavitch movement. Most of the estimated half-million Jews in Russia are nonobservant, but the religious groups are competing for funding and influence.

The agreement "won't bring anything good to the Jewish community of Russia," Shayevich said.