U.S. Group Slams Transfer of Jewish Texts Praised by Putin

Kremlin and St. Basil's

(RIA Novosti, WASHINGTON, June 17, 2013) ­ A New York-based Orthodox Jewish group has said it is not satisfied with Russia’s recent decision to transfer a disputed collection of Jewish religious texts to the newly built Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, a move proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to resolve the row.

Moving the so-called Schneerson Library to the Moscow museum does not satisfy the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement’s religious requirements or remedy “Russia’s unilateral seizure, retention, and claimed ownership of these sacred books,” the Agudas Chasidei Chabad, the Brooklyn-based umbrella organization for the Jewish group, said in a statement.

About 500 digitized copies of manuscripts from the Schneerson Library were handed over to the Jewish museum in Moscow on Thursday, the latest development in a complex legal dispute has turned into a full-scale diplomatic feud between the United States and Russia since a US court ruled that Russia must return about 12,000 books and 50,000 manuscripts from the collection to the Chabad.

Putin in February suggested moving the Jewish archive from Moscow’s Lenin Library to the new museum.

“I hope that the transfer of the Schneerson collection, which undoubtedly is of great interest and value for the Jewish people and not just for Russian Jews in particular but also for Jewish believers residing in other parts of the world, will resolve this issue finally,” Putin said Thursday.

The Schneerson Library is a collection of books and religious documents assembled by the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement over two centuries prior to World War II in Belarus. It is one of the main Jewish religious relics.

Part of the collection amassed by Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson was nationalized by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Later, about 25,000 pages of manuscripts fell into the hands of the Nazis and were later recovered by the Red Army and handed over to the Russian State Military Archive. This part of the Schneerson Library is now kept in the archive of Lenin’s Library in Moscow.

The other part was taken out of the Soviet Union by Schneerson, who emigrated in the 1930s.

Rabbi Berel Levin, the chief librarian of the Chabad Library in Brooklyn, told The Forward earlier this year that the disputed tomes are written primarily in Hebrew but that because the Russian government and its Soviet predecessor never catalogued the texts, the exact contents of the collection remain largely unclear.

The New York-based Jewish group said in Friday’s statement that housing the digitized copies of the manuscripts at the Jewish museum does not address “Russia’s plunder of Chabad’s archive of manuscripts seized by the Nazis in Poland during the Holocaust.”

“Chabad wishes to resolve this matter amicably with the Russian government,” the group added.

Since 1991, the year of Schneerson’s death, leaders of the Orthodox Jewish movement have been trying to regain possession of the library, saying it was illegally held by the Soviet authorities after the war.

In 1991, a court in Moscow agreed to turn over the library to Chabad. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the ruling was ignored. The Russian government now says it wants to keep the archive for future scholars.

In 2010, a court in Washington confirmed the American Jewish community’s right to the library, but Russia called the court’s decision illegitimate. In late 2011, a US court ruled that Russia must return about 12,000 books and 50,000 manuscripts from the library.

Russia, which considers the collection as part of the country’s heritage, has refused to hand over the collection despite a $50,000 per-day fine imposed by the court.

Russia’s chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, who accompanied Putin during the visit to the Jewish museum Thursday, praised the Russian president’s decision as “a heroic deed,” calling it “a Solomon decision.”