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January 17, 2013 2:20 pm

Russia Lashes Out at U.S. After Court Calls for Penalties Over Chabad Library

avatar by Max Elstein Keisler

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The annual Chabad convention of emmisares. Photo: Baruch Ezagui.

On Thursday the Russian Foreign Ministry lashed out at a ruling made by a U.S. federal judge that would fine the country $50,000 a day were it to not return an ancient library to Chabad, a major Jewish organization known for its outreach work.

Calling it “an absolutely unlawful and provocative decision,” the Foreign Ministry threatened a tough response if U.S authorities try to seize Russian property in an attempt to collect the fine.

Chabad achieved a significant victory Wednesday in their attempt to retrieve a collection of Chasidic texts from the Russian government, when a U.S. federal judge made the ruling—which could amount to some $18 million a year in penalties.

The Schneerson collection contains more than 12,000 books and manuscripts collected by the first five rebbes of the Chabad movement, as well as handwritten documents of Rabbi Yosef Yizchak Schneerson, the sixth rebbe. Schneerson left the collection behind when he fled to America in 1939. The Nazis stole the archive, and it was later captured by the Red Army, and shipped to Moscow. To this day it remains in the Russian State Military History Archive.

According to TMZ, the Obama Administration went through the State Department to oppose the court ruling, saying that it would harm US-Russian relations. In 2010, a federal judge ruled that Russia must return the collection, but the Russian government refused to recognize the ruling.

Lawyers for Chabad say that the Schneerson Collection has been poorly taken care of by Soviet and by Russian authorities. The collection was allegedly stored for decades in “horrible conditions” and Russia has failed to catalog the collection despite having decades to do so.

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  • BlueShadowII

    I am a somewhat rabid Conservative and a Christian who is a strong supporter of Israel, but I find myself in agreement with the Obama administration on this issue. While I agree that these ancient texts should be returned, this is not within the jurisdiction of a U.S. court. We Americans and you Israelis have a long, justified record of ignoring the rulings of foreign courts. How can we morally expect the Russians to respond differently?

    And now that I have confessed agreement with the Obama administration on something, I’m feeling nauseous and must go lie down.

  • albert rosenblatt

    why not do what YIVO NY did with its archives in Vilna? It and the Lithuanian government agreed to photocopy the entire archive — and send the photocopies to NY. Now they can be studied in two continents.

    the Lyubavitsh archives could also be photocopied.

    In the meantime, whoever is in control of these archives should 1) catalog them 2) allow free access by all scholars.

  • Seth Lefkow

    Love him or hate him, General George Patton’s comments about the Russians ring truer now than they did when he made them at the end of World War II.