Russia probes Jewish text, Israel protests

Date: 06-28-05

By Oliver Bullough

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian prosecutors have checked a traditional Jewish legal text for extremism, in a probe that an angry Israeli deputy premier pledged on Tuesday to raise with top officials at Moscow meetings.

Prosecutors began their investigation into the Shulhan Arukh, a 16th century Jewish law compilation, after 20 members of parliament in January signed a petition asking that Jewish organizations be banned for provoking racial hatred.

Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the petition, which provoked a storm of complaints about anti-Semitism in Russia. But the investigation went on.

"We are involved in this, but I will not comment. I told everything to Izvestia (newspaper)," said Sergei Marchenko, a spokesman for Moscow prosecutors.

The Israeli Web site Ynet said the probe was in response to a petition which accused the Jewish law book of barring Jewish women from helping non-Jewish women give birth and banning Jewish artisans from sharing professional secrets with those not members of the faith.

Ynet said that charges raised in the petition "were reminscent of the blood libels of a previous century."

Izvestia quoted Marchenko as saying the investigation had continued "because we have to carry out another series of additional checks."

Russian news agency Interfax later quoted sources in the Moscow Prosecutor's office saying they would not press charges, but rights groups and Jewish groups had already said the probe was proof of lingering anti-Semitism in Russia, which is home to a million Jews but has seen discrimination for centuries.

It was not clear if the investigation had ended.

Ehud Olmert, deputy to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said he would raise the issue with Russian Premier Mikhail Fradkov during trade talks on Tuesday. After the meeting Russian news agencies did not say whether the issue had been raised and officials were unavailable to comment.

"We are not tolerating and we are not going to tolerate this," he told Israel radio before the meeting with Fradkov.

"Our relations with Russia are very important to us. But there are things beyond any such considerations and calculations. On these we won't compromise, and we'll say them in the clearest and most direct way."

Other Israeli officials expressed disbelief that prosecutors would investigate a book that merely lays out the rules of behavior for practicing Jews.

"(This) is either very foolish or very anti-Semitic. In my judgment, it is a real mistake and I do hope the president of Russia will have a second look," Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres told Reuters.

"To investigate an old book that does not contain any specific extreme expressions? I hope Russia will solve the problem that she herself has created."

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem)



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