Russian court says U.S. must return disputed Schneerson texts


MOSCOW (JTA) — A Moscow judge demanded that Washington hand over seven Jewish books in a ruling that is part of an ongoing Russian-American legal dispute concerning ownership of several Hasidic texts.

The ruling Thursday by the Moscow Commercial Court concerns seven books that are a part of the Schneerson collection – a library of approximately 12,000 books and 50,000 documents amassed by Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson, who led the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement until his death in 1950.

The seven books in question have been on loan from Russia since 1994 at the U.S. Library of Congress, the Russian legal news agency RAPSI reported.

A U.S. judge last year ordered Russia to pay $50,000 a day in fines for failing to honor a 2010 ruling by the U.S. District Court in Washington to hand over the library, but Russia transferred the texts — which are in the possession of the Russian State Military Archive and the Russian State Library — to Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center.

Mirroring the American ruling, the Russian court ordered the U.S. government to pay compensation of $50,000 per day if it doesn’t honor that court’s ruling, delivered on a lawsuit Russia’s Ministry of Culture and the State Library filed in July against the U.S. government and the Library of Congress . This ruling has not taken legal effect yet and may be appealed, RAPSI reported.

The U.S. district court’s ruling was on a lawsuit filed by leaders of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in New York, who say they are the rightful owners of the texts, which were seized and confiscated during the Russian Revolution in 1918. But the Russian government disputes this claim, arguing the books are part of Russian cultural heritage.

The Jewish museum in Moscow where the bulk of the library is kept is run by representatives of the Chabad movement there and chaired by Boruch Gorin, a senior Chabad rabbi.

In March Gorin told JTA his museum did not wish to be involved in the dispute, but nonetheless agreed to house the collection in order to maintain good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who suggested the texts be placed there.

“Putin’s suggestion came as a surprise to us, and not a very pleasant one,” Gorin said. “We very much wanted to stay out of the dispute,” but “when the president of Russia makes a suggestion, it is usually accepted.”

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