USA Wants To Withdraw Hasidim Treasures from Russia

A new scandal is about to break out between Russia and the United States. At this time, with religious overtones. Moscow refuses to hand over the Schneerson library located in Russia to Jewish religious organization Agudas Chabad Hasid.

Non-governmental religious organization of American Hasidim Agudas Chabad Hasid, whose headquarters are located in New York’s Brooklyn, is trying to get its hands on this library.

The library includes a unique collection of books on Judaism, which for centuries had been collected in the Smolensk region by Rabbis Schneerson, subjects of the Russian Empire.

It was started in 1772 by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, who lived in the town of Lubavitch, the center of one of Hasidism, Judaism branch, in the 18th century. His initiative was supported by his descendants. As a result, this collection now includes 12,000 books and 50,000 unique documents, including 381 manuscripts.

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In 1917, the Schneerson’s library was stored in Moscow. The Bolsheviks requisitioned it. In 1927 a descendant of the Schneersons expelled from the Soviet Union managed to take the library with him, first to Latvia, and then to Poland.

When World War II started, Schneerson fled to the United States. But this time he failed to save the documents. They got into the hands of the Nazis, who sent them to Germany. After the defeat of the Nazi, Schneerson’s archive was seized by the Soviet troops, who returned it to Moscow. After some time it was placed in the current Russian State Military Archives. Books are stored in the Russian State Library (RSL).

It should be noted that many Hasidim believe Rabbi Schneerson to be a saint, and the library collected by him and his descendants – a religious shrine. Hasidim believe that the collection will open mystic prophecy that will enable them to expand their influence in the world. It is no accident that in the early 1990's, Hasidim picketed RSL, demanding that books and documents are returned to them. There were even reports that they tried to seize the library by force.

The influential Hasidic organization Agudas Chabad Hasid has been fighting for the “return” of the archive and the Schneerson’s library for over 15 years. In this regard, it appealed to the U.S. court. Judge Lamberth agreed that the Hasidim had a right to the Schneerson’s family archive, which includes over 25,000 pages of manuscripts, letters and other personal documents.

Russian representatives were not present at the hearing, because Moscow has made it clear that this case was not in the jurisdiction of the Americancourts. However, Washington did not notice that. In January of 2009, Judge Lamberth warned Moscow that he will rule in favor of the Hasidim if Russia does not participate in the hearings. Since the Russian side has not participated in the hearings, the Court District of Columbia in October of 2009 acknowledged the claim of Hasidic fair.

In early August of 2010, Judge Lamberth said that the books and manuscripts are stored in the Russian State Library and the Russian military archives “illegally” and that the Hasidim have every right to them.

The reaction of the Russian Foreign Ministry was harsh. It clearly stated that no “return” will take place. In their statement, representatives of the Russian Foreign Ministry said that from a legal point of view the decision of the American court to transfer the Schneerson library was “null and void,” and constituted a flagrant violation of universally recognized norms and principles of international law. Indeed , why should Russia be subject to American justice ?

Foreign Ministry emphasized that “the courts of one country cannot consider claims against other countries and their property without the express consent of the latter.”

Russian diplomats point out that the Schneerson Library had never belonged to the American organization Chabad. It actually never left the territory of Russia and was nationalized, since the Schneerson family had no heirs. And if so, then the return of the books will never happen.

In addition, the Russian Foreign Ministry also demanded that the American Hasidic repatriate seven books from the Schneerson collection that they have kept since 1994. However, in the Yeltsin era there were a few cases like that. These publications have been received by them from the Russian State Library through the international lending program of the Library of Congress. Hasidim checked them out for two months to read, but the reading process has been dragging for over 16 years.

Of course, one can understand the desire to obtain this Hasidic shrine. And here Russia leaves the door for a dialogue open. The statement made by the Russian Foreign Ministry says that by law, "it would be logical, if the U.S. court, mindful of the immunity of the Russian Federation and its property against the jurisdiction of a foreign court, ruled that this matter is outside its jurisdiction and any claims by plaintiffs must be dealt with exclusively at Russian courts," the ministry said. "By the way, no one is depriving American Hasids of this opportunity," it added.

Sergei Balmasov

Read the original in Russian

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov