The Chabad Hasidic movement has begun legal proceedings against Russia and urged Israeli authorities to only give Russia control of the Alexander Courtyard church compound in Jerusalem - if they return the Schneerson library archives.
Russia’s intentions to close down the activities of the Jewish Agency throughout the country have brought about another crisis as well. The Chabad movement in the US has begun legal proceedings against Russia. Representatives of Chabad appealed to Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara, demanding that the process for the transfer of ownership of real estate in Jerusalem (and, particularly, the Alexander Courtyard church) to the Russian government be frozen.
Israeli attorney Uri Keidar, who is representing Chabad in this legal battle, sent a letter to Baharav-Miara on Sunday.
In the letter, it is explained that the “Schneerson Library” is a historical collection of the global Chabad movement and that the collection includes approximately 12,000 books and original writings, which were gradually collected and preserved since the end of the 18th century.
The Schneerson library is a unique collection of books that belonged to the dynasty of Lubavitch rabbis before the Russian Revolution and was nationalized by the Soviet Government in the 1920s.
The Schneerson collection at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow includes a significant and once inaccessible portion of the famous library of the Lubavitcher Rebbes (leaders of the Chabad movement). In 1915, the Lubavitcher Rebbes who fled from the German troops moved their private library from their residence in Lubavitch to Moscow for safe storage. After the 1917 Russian revolution, the Bolshevik regime nationalized the Schneerson Library. Thus, it became a state property and was deposited to the Lenin State Library, today’s Russian State Library.
Chabad has been demanding that the Russian government return the collection to the possession of Chabad headquarters in the US. The last Rebbe of the movement, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, appointed a special delegation to retrieve the books, who have since been working in different ways to achieve that goal.
So far, the US has issued a series of judgments and decisions against the Russian government, ordering it to return the Schneerson Library to Chabad. They have also imposed on Russia a significant fine for being held in contempt of court, which currently stands at approximately 170 million dollars.
Moscow has been demanding that Israel hand over control of the Alexander Courtyard church compound in Jerusalem, which former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to give to Russia as a gesture of goodwill after the release of Naama Issachar from a Russian jail in 2020. This, however, was a move that the Jerusalem District Court did not allow, and it may be one of the reasons for the hostile treatment of Israeli and Jewish organizations in Russia.
Keidar stated in his letter that “the Schneerson collection has historical Jewish importance, and therefore, it is only natural that the State of Israel will do everything in its power on the legal and practical level to assist my clients’ worldwide efforts to return the Schneerson collection to its possession at the Chabad Hassidic headquarters in the US.”
"the Schneerson collection has historical Jewish importance, and therefore it is only natural that the State of Israel will do everything in its power on the legal and practical level, to assist my client's worldwide efforts to return the Schneerson collection to its possession at the Chabad Hasidic headquarters in the US."Uri Keidar
In his letter, he also explains the possibility of a diplomatic crisis arising due to the issue. “The global Chabad movement has requested that you and the Israeli government be informed ahead of time that it intends to take legal action against the Russian government in Israel, including regarding Russian assets (or those that the Russian government wishes to register as their owners) in Israel,” he wrote.
“The Rebbe assigned us the task of returning the books from Russia,” said Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, a member of the team appointed by the last Chabad Rebbe to return the books to the US. “We have no doubt that the task will be completed as he [the Rebbe] wished, and the books will be returned to the Rebbe’s library whether the Russians like it or not.”