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

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 Hassidic texts.

The May 22 ruling by the Moscow Commercial Court concerns seven books that are a part of the Schneersohn collection — a library of approximately 12,000 books and 50,000 documents amassed by Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn, who led the Chabad-Lubavitch Hassidic movement until his death in 1950.

The seven books in question have been on loan from Russia since 1994 at the 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 entire library, but Russia transferred the texts instead to Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, run by Chabad of Russia.

Mirroring the American ruling, the Russian court ordered the U.S. government to pay compensation of $50,000 per day if it does not 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. — jta