MOSCOW - Prosecutors dropped an investigation into whether the classic Jewish text, "The Shulhan Aruch," incites national and religious hatred - a decision that drew praise from Russia's chief rabbi and Israel's vice premier.
Rabbi Berel Lazar said he had contacted prosecutors to explain that the text was not aimed at non-Jews and to complain that officials seeking the probe had "anti-Semitic sentiments.''
"I'm happy that this case has been dropped,'' Lazar told The Associated Press, adding that he'd been personally informed of the decision by the Moscow prosecutor's office.
The prosecutor's office declined comment. That office was responsible for the investigation into whether the Russian translation of "Kitsur Shulhan Aruch," a code of ancient Jewish religious laws, provokes religious hatred.
Prosecutors had summoned rabbi
The original probe was initiated after two nationalist activists complained the text is aimed at ``insulting human dignity based on national and religious affiliation,'' according to an earlier prosecutors' statement posted on the Web site of an anti-xenophobia group, Sova. The text was also accused of labeling Christians ``worshippers of idols'' in a reference to Christians' main religious symbol, the cross.
Moscow district prosecutors last week summoned for questioning Rabbi Zinovy Kogan, chairman of the Congress of Jewish Religious Organizations, who published the translated text.
The investigation was meant to review a ruling last month by Moscow prosecutors that the text did not inspire hatred and a criminal case was not warranted.
Israeli Vice Premier Ehud Olmert, who met Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov in Moscow on Tuesday, praised the Russian government for canceling the probe. "They have a clear commitment to the war against anti-Semitism,'' Olmert told Channel Two TV.
Prosecutors also decided not to pursue a separate probe into 19 nationalist lawmakers who had called for outlawing all Jewish organizations, the Interfax news agency reported Tuesday, citing law enforcement sources.
Russian still seeking probe
The lawmakers' letter to the general prosecutor's office made the religious text the center of an appeal for an investigation aimed at banning all Jewish organizations. The letter accused Jews of fomenting ethnic hatred and provoking anti-Semitism.
Lazar said he hoped the decision to drop the criminal case would be reversed.
"We are asking them to open a case into the letter ... to prove that it was anti-Semitic,'' he said. "Anti-Semitism is historical in Russia. It is getting better, there is a change at the top. But we can see remnants of the former Soviet system and it needs to be combatted.''
Russia and the Soviet Union had a long history of state-sponsored anti-Semitism, including the residence restrictions in the Russian Empire, brutal pogroms at the turn of the 20th century, and Soviet-era discrimination against Jews.
The government no longer perpetuates anti-Semitism after the 1991 Soviet collapse, but many rights groups accuse Russian leaders of being silent in the face of xenophobia, expressed in the occasional desecration of Jewish cemeteries and more frequent skinhead attacks against dark-skinned foreigners.