Russian Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Lubavitch Bid for Historic Library

A three-judge panel of the Russian Supreme Court ruled Friday that the Lenin Library in Moscow must turn over to the Chabad Lubavitch movement some 12,000 books confiscated by the Communists in 1916.

The unanimous decision was obtained after a marathon of meetings between four Lubavitch rabbis and various Moscow bureaucrats.

The court’s ruling was followed by a written order, issued Tuesday.

In December, Russian President Boris Yeltsin agreed that the entire collection legally belongs to Chabad and should be returned to it. Since then, the four rabbis have been in Moscow trying, with the help of Moscow lawyer Veronica Irina, to recover possession of the books.

The rabbis are Boruch Shlomo Cunin, Los Angeles Chabad director; Sholom Ber Levine, another American and the movement’s chief librarian; Yosef Aronov, Lubavitch director in Israel; and Yitzhak Kagan, a former refusenik once known as “the tzaddik of Leningrad,” now an Israeli citizen.

Among those who went to bat for the Lubavitchers were the late industrialist Armand Hammer and Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub, a friend of President Bush.

FEARS OF PILFERING CONFIRMED

Following 10 months of wrangling with both Soviet and Russian officials, the rabbis were led to believe that they would finally be given the books the Friday before Rosh Hashanah. But after a day’s waiting and seemingly countless last-minute discussions among various high-level officials, Culture Minister Nikolai Gubenko ordered that the books not be released.

Meanwhile, Lubavitch fears that books from the collection were being pilfered have been confirmed, according to Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, spokesman for the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Schneerson. The fears arose when some of the books were found in the office of a man fired from his position after the aborted August coup.

And only a week ago, he said, a librarian found several Hebrew books from a valuable 400-year-old collection in a garbage can near the library. Putting books in the garbage is believed to be one method of surreptitiously removing books from the library. In this case, someone presumably hoped to sell the books later.

According to Krinsky, one reason behind official reluctance to release the books may well be the fact that some of the books have been spirited away.

“We won’t know what is missing until we have the whole collection,” he said.

Because of the Columbus Day holiday in the United States, the JTA Daily News Bulletin will not be published on Monday, Oct. 14.

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