Russia bans entry to numerous US Jews, including Chabad rabbis seeking return of Schneerson library

Among the 963 Americans banned from entering Russia includes three leaders of Chabad's umbrella body.

RABBI MENACHEM MENDEL SCHNEERSON of Lubavitch at a Lag Ba’omer parade in Brooklyn, 1987. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
RABBI MENACHEM MENDEL SCHNEERSON of Lubavitch at a Lag Ba’omer parade in Brooklyn, 1987.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Among the many Jews on Russia’s latest list of Americans banned entry are three Chabad rabbis, in possible retaliation for Chabad’s decades-long effort to recover texts and artifacts that the Soviets took from the movement.

The list of 963 Americans posted Saturday, first reported by Axios, includes three leaders of Chabad’s umbrella body, Agudas Chassidei Chabad. They are

  • Rabbi Avraham Shemtov, the chairman of the executive of the umbrella body, a founder of the Washington office of the movement;
  • Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, the umbrella group’s secretary, who heads the educational and social arms of Chabad-Lubavitch; and
  • Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, a West Coast leader of the movement who is prominent in the branch of the movement seeking the return of the texts.

Chabad Online, a news site that covers the movement, said the men were likely included on the list because of Chabad’s continued advocacy for Russia to release the texts.

 Jewish Ukrainian refugees celebrate Passover at Chabad center in Warsaw, Poland.  (credit: CHABAD POLAND) Jewish Ukrainian refugees celebrate Passover at Chabad center in Warsaw, Poland. (credit: CHABAD POLAND)

A lawyer for Chabad told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency last week that Russia’s war against Ukraine has invigorated the efforts to recoup the collection of sacred texts, known as the Schneerson library and archive. That’s because the United States’ effort to seize Russian assets is seen as strengthening Chabad’s own bid to seize Russian wealth to pay more than $165 million in court-ordered fines that the country owes for not returning the texts.

Russia released the list explicitly to retaliate against expanded U.S. sanctions against Russia for its unprompted war against Ukraine. It’s not always clear what qualifies an American for entry on the list; some entries offer perfunctory explanations — the three rabbis have their Chabad titles listed — and others that simply say “US citizen.” Some people banned entry into the United States, such as former Sen. John McCain, are dead, and even listed as such.

The list also includes Nathan and Alyza Lewin, a father-daughter Supreme Court lawyer team who have represented Jewish groups on a number of religious liberty issues. Nathan Lewin has also represented Chabad in the Russia case, while Alyza Lewin is president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.

Also on the list are Tim Naftali, a noted presidential historian who has analyzed Russia-US tensions; Jewish Congress members, including Democrats Steve Cohen of Tennessee, Jerry Nadler of New York, Alan Lowenthal of California, Andy Levin of Michigan, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Republicans Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee; and Ellen Weintraub, a federal election commissioner.

Jewish actor Rob Reiner is listed, not for directing “Spinal Tap” and other comedic classics but for founding “Investigate Russia,” a now-dormant website that tracked the investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Among the journalists listed is Susan Glasser, the foreign affairs expert who recently coauthored with her husband Peter Baker “Kremlin Rising: Putin’s Russia and the Counter-Revolution.”

Then there are the mysteries, the folks with obvious Jewish names listed only as US citizens, among them Moshe Cohen and Avrohom Yitzhak Weisfish.

Many of those listed have mocked their entries, noting that they have no intention of entering Russia and no assets Russia can sanction. Chabad Online led its article on the listing with the Russian word for “Goodbye” — “Dasvidaniya!”

Chabad represents a prominent thread of Jewish life in Russia. The war has put its local leaders in a difficult position, as they seek to continue to serve the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live there while also remaining part of an international movement with emotional ties to Ukraine. Chabad of Russia is associated with a Jewish museum where some of the Schneerson library is currently housed.