Russian Jewish group OK with 'Pokemon Go'

MOSCOW – The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia said on Tuesday it does not mind people playing the hit smartphone game “Pokemon Go” around synagogues and other cultural buildings.

The Jewish community’s governing body said in a statement Tuesday that it is not against the game as long as it is not disturbing the congregation.

“We don’t see any problem,” the Jewish federation’s spokesman Andrei Glotser told the Tass news agency. “Let them come and search (for the Pokemon), maybe even something useful will come out of this!”

“Pokemon Go” is an augmented reality game which allows players to scour their neighbourhoods and cities in search of fictional characters. It is reported to be the biggest U.S. mobile game ever and within 24 hours of its launch had outstripped popular apps such as Twitter and the location-based dating-app Tinder for number one app in the U.S. App Store’s ‘Top Grossing’. The app was officially launched in Russia on Monday.

The game has had a mixed reaction from other denominations and Russian politicians. While Russian airports and banks have endorsed the game, the Russian Orthodox Church and some Duma deputies have angrily complained that the Western-developed app has harmed Russia.

Vakhtang Kipshidze, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church, in comments carried by the Moskva news agency on Tuesday called the game “a threat to human integrity” and cautioned users against playing the game on church premises. Russian state-owned television channel Rossiya 24 aired a segment in which is suggested that such trespassing on official and private property could result in a prison sentence.

Duma deputy Yevgeny Fydorov took this one step further in comments on his YouTube channel, accusing the foreign game-makers of conspiracy to destabilize the Russian state, by bringing people out onto the streets, causing mass riots and chaos.

Russian businesses, however, seemed anxious to capitalize on the game craze.

Russian bank Sberbank has started offering free insurance to players hurt while playing “Pokemon Go.” In the event of injury, policyholders would be entitled to compensation as high as 50,000 rubles ($800), the bank said in a statement released on Monday.