Russia Refuses to Return Disputed Chabad Archive

Moscow court rejects US order to hand over Schneersohn Library, hits back by fining the US for withholding part of the collection.


Chabad claim legal ownership over the library
Chabad claim legal ownership over the library
Israel news photo: Flash 90

A Moscow court on Thursday rejected a US order for Russia to hand over a disputed Jewish archive, instead imposing a fine on Washington for keeping part of the collection.  

The dispute over the Schneersohn Library - a collection of more than 12,000 texts and 50,000 documents venerated by Hasidic Jews - has for years damaged Russia-US cultural ties.  

The Moscow arbitration court rejected a US court ruling in 2013 that imposed a $50,000 (37,000 euro)-per-day fine on Russia as long as the collection was not handed over to New York's Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch community, which considers itself the legal heir to the archive.

The Russian court instead imposed its own $50,000-per-day fine on the United States for keeping some of the archives at the Library of Congress.

The collection was originally owned by Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, a spiritual leader of Russia's Chabad-Lubavitch community in the early 20th century.

The collection was split up and partially nationalised by the Soviet Union in 1918.

Part of the archive was taken out of Russia and ended up in Germany, where it was seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War II.  

In 2013 Russia decided to transfer the collection from the state library to the new Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre in Moscow, where a reading room made it available to the public.  

The parts of the collection in the United States were loaned by Russia to New York's Chabad-Lubavitch community in 1994 but they refused to return them.  

The dispute has seen cultural exchange programmes frozen between the US and Russia, with touring exhibitions from such prominent museums as the Hermitage and the Tretyakov State Gallery bypassing the United States.