Lithuania chief rabbi ‘close’ to dismissal following criticism on community leader

Cnaan Liphshiz

VILNIUS (JTA) — A leader of Lithuania’s Jewish community said its chief rabbi is close to losing the title following his criticism of her on Facebook.

Faina Kukliansky, chair of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, told JTA that her community was considering dismissing Rabbi Chaim Burshtein in connection with two statements he made on the social network about what he said was her lacking transparency and centralism in running the community.


“Chaim Burshtein is not worthy of being called a rabbi, as his actions and inaction clearly demonstrated,” she told JTA last week. Kukliansky said she supported the rabbi’s freedom of expression, but following the confrontational statements “we are nearing a situation where he will no longer serve this community.”

Burshtein launched an attack on Kukliansky on Dec. 24 in a post titled “official statement” in connection with what he called “the excessive concentration of power in her hands.” The community, he wrote, “already looks like the Soviet police department in which Ms. Kukliansky used to work as an investigator.”

Reminding members that he was formerly “a refusenik, who  fought leave the USSR and sat in a Soviet prison,” he called on members to support him against Kukliansky. The following month he wrote that he had tried and failed to explain the importance of “transparency when using the resources of the destroyed Jewish communities’ restitution” to Kukliansky.

Burshtein declined to speak to JTA about the fight, saying it was “an internal matter.”

Other members of Lithuania’s fractious community of roughly 3,000 Jews connect the conflict also to Kukliansky’s recent appointment of non-Jews to salaried community positions.

In addition, some Lithuanian Jews believe the community should not have settled for a restitution deal supported by Kukliansky because they deem its bottom-line sum of several dozen million dollars insufficient.

Some local Jews also believe Kukliansky’s practice as a lawyer representing foreigners seeking citizenship from the government constitutes a conflict of interest that they say rendered Kukliansky cooperative with the Baltic state’s controversial and unique claim that the Soviets perpetrated a genocide there.  Kukliansky is on the record as opposing this policy, which she says banalizes the Holocaust.

“My excellence as an investigator and later as prosecutor prepared me to lead tough negotiations over restitution,” she said. Nominating non-Jews, she said, to key community positions “helps build bridges” to the general population.

She also denied claims of any conflict of interest, noting her position is unsalaried. “The claim that lawyers can’t lead communities is laughable,” she said.