Russian and American Chabad Arms Split Over Schneerson Library

Putin's Proposal Aims To End Long, Bitter Legal Battle

It Belongs Here: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with chief rabbi Berel Lazar, left, and Alexander Boroda at a new Jewish museum in Moscow.
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It Belongs Here: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with chief rabbi Berel Lazar, left, and Alexander Boroda at a new Jewish museum in Moscow.

By Paul Berger

Published March 03, 2013, issue of March 08, 2013.
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A proposal by Russian President Vladimir Putin for solving a bitter, decades-long legal battle over the late Lubavitcher Rebbe’s library, long held in Moscow, has pitted Russia’s Chabad-Lubavitch community against its U.S. brethren.

Nathan Lewin, the lawyer spearheading the Brooklyn-based Chabad movement’s lawsuit against the Russian state, dismissed Putin’s February 19 suggestion to keep the collection in a Chabad-controlled Jewish library in Moscow. “Chabad is the rightful owner of the collection, and its return to the United States is the only acceptable outcome that is consistent with the clear directives of the [deceased] Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson,” Lewin said in a statement.”

But in an interview with the Forward, Boruch Gorin, a spokesman in Russia for Chabad’s Federation of Jewish Communities, criticized Lewin’s dismissal as “aggressive.” Alluding to anti-Semitism that could be stoked by the Chabad lawsuit, Gorin called Lewin’s dismissal of Putin’s proposed compromise “dangerous [for] the future of the Jewish community in Russia.”

“To answer simply ‘no’ — that looks very strange and, let’s say, not too friendly to Russian Jews,” Gorin said.

Chabad’s followers see the Schneerson Library, a collection of books amassed by the early rabbinic leaders of the Chabad Hasidic movement, as integral to the movement’s religious and spiritual foundation.

Gorin said that Putin’s gesture was the first instance since the collapse of the Soviet Union in which a Russian leader has stated publicly that he is “ready to compromise” on the Schneerson Library.

“I think it’s a very important thing, and we believe it is not only a mistake, but a tragic mistake, not to understand that,” Gorin said.

He said that Berel Lazar, Chabad’s chief rabbi in Russia, has written to Chabad leaders in the United States, urging a face-to-face meeting in America to discuss the matter.


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