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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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