Adolf Shayevich

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Adolf Solomonovich Shayevich (born 28 October 1937; Russian: Адольф Соломонович Шаевич; the first name is sometimes also transcribed as Adolph, and the surname as Shayevitch or Shaevich[1]) has been since 1983 the rabbi of Moscow Choral Synagogue, which has been traditionally considered as Moscow's main Jewish house of prayer.[2]

During the waning days of the Soviet Union, Shayevich was sometimes unofficially referred to in the West as the "Soviet Union's Chief Rabbi".[3] [4]

Presently he is considered the Chief Rabbi of Russia by the Russian Jewish Congress, one of the two major Jewish organization in Russia (of which he also is a member of the presidium).[1] His claim to this title is not universally recognized, however, because the country's other major Jewish organization, Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, has its own Chief Rabbi of Russia, Berel Lazar.[5]

While the Russian Federation is a secular state, the federal government has referred to both Lazar [5] and Shayevich as the "Chief Rabbi of Russia".[6]


Adolf Shayevich was raised in Birobidzhan, in a fairly secular family of Western Ukrainian Jewish origin.[7] In the early 1970s he left his job as a chief mechanic with a local government agency and moved to Moscow. According to his own recollection, he was looking for a change of environment, a more meaningful life where people are not tempted to spend their free time drinking. However, he found it difficult to find a job in Moscow: as he remembers it, employers were wary about hiring a Jew, as they would not want to have any problems on their hands if the employee were to decide to migrate to Israel.[7] However, in 1972 he was admitted to the small religious school affiliated with the Moscow Choral Synagogue, the main synagogue of the city.[7]

In 1973 the visiting New York rabbi Arthur Schneier, who had long had good relations both with the chief rabbi of the Moscow Synagogue, Yakov Fishman and with the Soviet ambassador in the US Anatoly Dobrynin, helped two Soviet rabbinical students - Adolf Shayevich and Yefim Levitis (who was to become the rabbi of the Leningrad Synagogue later on) to enter the Rabbinical Seminary in Budapest, the only rabbinical training institution that operated at the time in the Soviet Bloc.[7][8] He and Levitis became the first two Soviet rabbinical students in their generation who were allowed to go to study abroad.[9] [10][11] where he was ordained as a rabbi in April 1980. [2] [12][13] It was in Budapest where he met his wife.[citation needed]

Back in Moscow, the Council for Religious Affairs (the Soviet government's office for dealing with the religious institutions) suggested that the new rabbi goes back to Birobidzhan - the place where there wasn't even a synagogue at the time[7] - but Rabbi Fishman offered Shayevich a position as his deputy at Moscow Choral Synagogue, located in downtown Moscow's Arkhipov Street.[7][12] In the summer 1983, after the death of Fishman, Shayevich took over his post as the chief rabbi of the synagogue.[11] As this was Moscow's largest and principal synagogue,[2] and the only synagogue in central Moscow,[4][14] this appointment also made him the Chief Rabbi of Moscow.[11]

In 1984, Shayevich visited the United States in a delegation of Soviet religious leaders, hosted by the US National Council of Churches.[15] In 1988, he spent 3 months studying at Yeshiva University in New York.[13]

In a letter dated January 1, 1989, Rabbi Shayevich informed the World Jewish Congress that he was no longer a member of the Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public; that made it possible his participation in the WJC.[2]

Shayevich was appointed the chief rabbi of Russia by the Russian Jewish Congress, and Rabbi Berel Lazar is the officially recognized Chief Rabbi of Russia by the Russian government.[16]

In June 2000 the dispute between Lazar and Shayevich escalated after Chabad requested that Shayevitch resign his claim to the post. When Lazar was named by the Kremlin to a high-profile governmental advisory panel that includes leaders of all religions officially recognized by the Russian government the Kremlin demonstrated that it officially recognized Lazar as the religious leader of the Russian Jewish community, replacing congress’s Adolf Shayevich, who until then had occupied the post.[5]

The Russian Government has not invited Shayevich to any state events or giving him any posts. Lazar on the other hand as the Kremlin recognized Chief Rabbi of Russia, has received a number of important official positions and has been showered with medals by the Russian government. Shayevich's closeness to Vladimir Gusinsky, the head of the Russian Jewish Congress is thought to be the cause of his isolation. After Gusinsky supported Putin's rivals for President in 1999, Putin immediately brought Lazar into his circle on becoming president.

In 1987 Shayevich was awarded the Soviet Order of Friendship of Peoples.[13]

In 2008, on the occasion of the rabbi's 70th anniversary, he was awarded the highest award of the City Government of Moscow, the "Medal of Merit for Moscow", by Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.[17]


  1. ^ a b Russian Jewish Council: Members of Presidium (spelled "Adolf Shaevich")
  2. ^ a b c d ARI L. GOLDMAN (January 4, 1989), "Soviet Jews to Join World Congress", The New York Times 
  3. ^ "Moscow Jews Welcome Diplomats From Israel", Spokesman-Review, July 30, 1988 
  4. ^ a b BILL KELLER (July 30, 1988), "Israelis in Moscow: A Bit of Banter, and Prayers", New York Times 
  5. ^ a b c Kremlin ruffles Jewish feathers in Lubavitch rabbi appointment
  6. ^ Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Станислав Минин (Stanislav Minin) (2007-01-17), Раввин в синагоге – болельщик на стадионе. Адольф Шаевич о жизни в советском Биробиджане, психологии российских евреев и футболе. (A rabbi in a synagogue and a sports fan at a stadium. Adolf Shayevich talks about the life in Soviet Birobidzhan, about the psychology of Russian Jews, and about football) 
  8. ^ JOSEPH A. CINCOTTI (August 22, 1987), "The Russians Hit Town For Talks and Ice Cream", New York Times 
  9. ^ DAVID A. ANDELMAN (June 18, 1978), "SEMINARY PRESERVES JUDAISM IN RED BLOC; Budapest School, Only One in East Europe, Will Ordain First Soviet Rabbi in a Generation This Fall", The New York Times 
  10. ^ Austin, Anthony (September 3, 1980), "Soviet Lets 2 More Jews Go to Budapest Seminary", New York Times 
  11. ^ a b c Anthony Barbieri, Jr. (June 9, 1983), "Death Frees Moscow's Rabbi", Spokane Chronicle 
  12. ^ a b ANTHONY AUSTIN (September 3, 1980), "Soviet Lets 2 More Jews Go to Budapest Seminary", The New York Times  (Text snippet can be found via )
  13. ^ a b c L. Goldman (February 3, 1988), "Warmth and Suspicion for Cantor and Rabbi From Soviet", The New York Times 
  14. ^ The city's other synagogue was always considered the "second" one
  15. ^ MORRIS B. ABRAM (May 19, 1984), "SOVIET STRATEGY ON JEWS", The New York Times 
  16. ^ Russian Jewry split over election of Chief Rabbi, BBC, Jun 13, 2000
  17. ^ The RJC Presidium Member, Chief Rabbi of Russia Adolph Shaevich has reached the age of 70