Putin Hopes Move of Jewish Religious Archives Resolves Dispute
RIA Novosti – Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed hope on Thursday that moving the disputed collection of Jewish religious texts to the newly built Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow puts the issue to rest. A complex legal dispute over the so-called Schneerson Library 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 an Orthodox Jewish community in New York.
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 during a visit to the Jewish center.
Russia's chief rabbi, Berel Lazar, who accompanied Putin during the visit, praised the Russian president’s decision as “a heroic deed,” calling it “a Solomon decision.”
About 500 digitized copies of manuscripts from the Schneerson Library were handed over to the Jewish museum on Thursday. They will be accessible online.
According to Viktor Vekselberg, head of the Jewish center’s board of trustees, the rest of the digitized Jewish books will be transferred to the museum by the end of the year.
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 seized 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.
Since 1991, the year of Schneerson's death, leaders of the Brooklyn-based 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.