NEW YORK (Dec. 19)
After years of legal battles and political intercessions, a revered volume from a large library confiscated before the Russian Revolution has been returned to the Lubavitcher Chasidim.
The book — a 90-year-old copy of the “Tanya” presented to the rebbe’s predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhok Schneersohn, by his students before he became rebbe — was obtained by Vice President Al Gore especially for the ailing 92-year-old rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in Brooklyn.
The “Tanya,” which means “teaching,” was written nearly 200 years ago and is the basic philosophy of the Lubavitchers.
Gore received the gold-embossed, printed copy last Thursday from Russian Culture Minister Yevgeny Sidorov, after considerable intervention by President Clinton, Gore and the U.S. Senate, said Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin.
Cunin, who got the book from Gore in Moscow, delivered it last Friday to the rebbe, who generally does not receive visitors since he suffered a debilitating stroke two years ago.
Veronica Irina, an attorney who is also the rector of Maimonides University, the first Jewish state university in Russia, was among the group present at the book’s delivery to the rebbe. It was she “who the rebbe put in charge of the full strategy to receive the books,” Cunin said.
The Russian Supreme Court ruled in 1991 that the 12,000 books of the seized library be returned to the Lubavitchers, but the decision was not followed.
SUBJECT OF DISCUSSION AT TWO SUMMITS
Virtually the entire U.S. government, from the president down, has pressed the Russians relentlessly on the Lubavitcher library. It has, in fact, been a subject of discussion at two summit meetings between Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
Cunin, who lives in Los Angeles but spends most of his time in Moscow, has spent the past 13 years seeking return of the collection of the books at the rebbe’s behest.
Gore, who had been visiting Moscow as part of a trip to the former Soviet Union, used the occasion of receiving the religious tome to predict that the disputed collection will be returned to the Lubavitchers.
The vice president described the relinquishing of this book as “a wonderful humanitarian gesture.”
Gore made the comment after the librarian at the Russian State Library — formerly the Lenin Library — allowed him to pore over several old books at the library’s Museum of Religious History.
Gore has been involved in the matter of the library since he was a senator from Tennessee and was approached about the matter in the Senate hallway by Cunin’s sons, all of whom are rabbis.
Cunin described Gore as “a very special, warm human being” who “had tears in his eyes when he gave me the book.”
Cunin said U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering discussed the matter with the Russians “until 3 in the morning” last Thursday. “Then we got to the nuclear discussions,” Cunin quoted Pickering.