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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

First Synagogue Opens in a Russian Prison

The first synagogue in a Russian prison opened on Monday after 15 Jewish inmates asked for a house of prayer, a spokesman for Russia’s chief rabbi said.

The synagogue was opened in a penal colony in the Arkhangelsk region village of Yertsevo, said Andrei Glotser, spokesman for Rabbi Berl Lazar,

“This is a small synagogue for the 15 inmates who had expressed their wish to have it,” Glotser said by telephone.

Glotser added that the synagogue was “indicative of the high level of tolerance of the country’s leadership to various religious cultures.”

Judaism is one of four faiths recognized as “traditional” by federal law and therefore granted special rights. The other three faiths are Russian Orthodoxy, Islam and Buddhism.

Rabbi Aaron Gurevich, who attended a ceremony opening the synagogue Monday, said in a statement that he was glad that the inmates would have access to the synagogue for “the most important act of worship for the Jews,” the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, marked on Sept. 19 and 20.

He expressed hope that similar congregations of believers could be formed in other prisons. Jewish laws require the presence of at least 10 believers to hold a public prayer, Glotser said.

More than 400 practicing Jews are currently serving prison terms in Russia, the statement said.

About 1,100 religious congregations were meeting in Russian prisons as of April 2007, serving the needs of more than 70,000 believers, about 80 percent of them Orthodox, Moscow Patriarchate spokesman Alexander Dobrodeyev told RIA-Novosti at the time.

The first mosque opened in a prison in October 2003, at Penal Colony No. 33 in the Saratov region. The late Patriarch Alexy II blessed the first Orthodox prison church at the same penal colony in 1992.