Kremlin's Plans for Christian Curriculum in Schools Have Russian Jews Worried

Russia's Jewish community is concerned about a possible government decision to allow the Pravoslav Orthodox Church to teach the principles of Christianity in all government schools. Now local Jewish leaders are trying to enlist Muslim community leaders in a fight against the decision.

Officially, Russia maintains a separation of church and state, but under Vladimir Putin's rule, the government and church have grown closer. Nonetheless, Putin refused for a long time to make Christianity a mandatory school subject. But in recent months, there have been hints from the Russian education ministry that Putin no longer objects.

The change stems apparently from the government's desire to win church support ahead of the elections.

Although a decision has not been made yet, church officials have begun to prepare textbooks should the subject be introduced into schools as soon as next year.

There are 230,000 Jews living in Russia, according to official data, but the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS claims there are actually 1.2 million. Only some 11,000 children attend Jewish schools, and another 30,000 go to Sunday School programs.

At a press conference with Russian media yesterday on the occasion of the federation's 10th anniversary, its chief rabbi for Russia, Berl Lazar, he lambasted the plan to introduce Christianity into government schools.

"Children must not be coerced into studying a religion that contravenes their faith," he told Israeli reporters later, "and even if it won't be a compulsory subject, pressure from the other kids might offend the Jewish children greatly."

Lazar said some local Jewish leaders are afraid a public campaign against the decision might ignite anti-Semitism, but "we must not keep quiet or stop working against what seems to us to be not good for the Jews here." (Anshel Pfeffer)