Lithuania’s chief rabbi fired amid dispute over construction around former cemetery

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — The Jewish community of Lithuania fired the country’s chief rabbis amid his objections to the the government’s plan to build on an area the used to be a cemetery.

The dismissal of Chaim Burshtein, an Israeli who has served as Lithuania’s chief rabbi for the past 11 years, was announced Friday by Shmuel Levin, chairperson of the Vilnius Jewish Religious Community, which is a part of the Jewish Community of Lithuania under community president Faina Kukliansky.

“The Vilnius Jewish Religious Community resolved that after the current contract with Chaim Burshtein ends, it will not be extended, and that Shmuel Yatom is to perform the function of rabbi temporarily, until a new rabbi is found,” Levin said in a statement, which did not specify the reason for the discontinuation of Burshtein’s contract.

Yatom is currently the community’s cantor, according to Dr. Dovid Katz, a scholar of Yiddish and owner of the defendinghistory.com news and commentary site on Lithuanian Jewry.

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Burshtein told JTA he would longer be chief rabbi as of September.

His dismissal follows his public criticism in February of Kukliansky, a former state prosecutor and police officer. Burshtein accused her of resorting to authoritarian tactics in running the community. She denied the claims, said she had no conflict with him but added the community’s board was considering firing him.

Earlier this month, Burshtein announced her would form a new organization, Beyachad. He also suggested that Kukliansky was using her contacts with officials to have him deported, though she denied this.

Burshtein said Kukliansky had done so over his objection to a government-led plan to build a conference center atop a dilapidated building that Soviet authorities constructed over what used to be a large Jewish cemetery.

Kukliansky defended the plan, saying it did not disturb any human remains of Jews.

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