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MOSCOW - Jewish groups on Wednesday demanded to know why Russia had barred a top rabbi from entering the country.

The chief rabbi of Moscow's main synagogue, Rabbi Pinkhas Goldschmidt, said Russian border guards had denied him entry to the country on Tuesday when he returned from a trip to Israel.

Authorities stopped the rabbi, who holds Swiss citizenship, at a Moscow airport without explanation, Russian Jewish Congress President Vladimir Slutsker in a statement.

Speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio, Goldschmidt urged the authorities to review his case and let him return to Russia.

He said the border guards told him that his Russian visa had been annulled, but gave no further explanation. A RJC spokeswoman said border guards annulled his visa when he tried to come back to Moscow from holiday, and sent him back to Israel.

His visa had been valid until August next year.

"Slutsker sent an official request to the Foreign Ministry to know the reasons for this incident," the Russian Jewish Congress statement said.

"The RJC president hopes that the situation can be resolved as soon as possible and Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt can continue his work in Russia."

Goldschmidt said he hoped the incident was a misunderstanding.

Border guards were not available for comment and it was not immediately clear why Goldschmidt, head of Moscow's Choral Synagogue and chairman of the Conference of European Rabbis' standing committee, had been denied entry.

Russia's estimated 260,000 Jews have enjoyed the relaxation of religious laws since the collapse of the Soviet Union, despite mass emigration to Israel and a rise in racist violence.

Russian officials have repeatedly spoken out against anti-Semitism. President Vladimir Putin said in January he was ashamed by attacks on Jews in present-day Russia.

European human rights bodies have pointed out a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in Russia, while earlier this year an Israeli report ranked Russia third after Britain and France for instances of anti-Semitic violence.

Adolf Shayevich, Russia's chief rabbi, said that his Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations and Associations also asked the Foreign Ministry for an explanation of what happened to Goldschmidt but had not yet received an answer.

"It was unexpected for all of us, since he never has had any problems," Shayevich told Ekho Moskvy.