Russian courts hit back in legal battle over precious Jewish books

Russian courts hit back in legal battle over precious Jewish books

8 July 2014
Text Nadia Beard

A Russian court order compelling the US Library of Congress to return seven books from the Schneerson Collection came into effect yesterday, marking the latest turn in a decades-long feud over the ownership of the library of precious Jewish books and documents. Retaliating against a ruling from a US judge last year, which ordered Russia to pay fines of $50,000 per day for failing to send the rest of the books to the US, in May this year a Moscow arbitration court ruled that the US Library of Congress will be subject to the same fine if they refuse to return those parts of the collection held in the US. A spokesperson from the court told Interfax yesterday: “No appeals were lodged by the deadline, so the decision is now taking effect.”

The books, which have been on loan to the Library of Congress since 1994 on the condition that they are returned upon the first request, have been the subject of disagreement between the US and Russia, who both lay claim to the collection. Despite calls to have the books returned last year from the Russian Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky and the Russian State Library, the US has so far kept the works.

The Schneerson Collection was started at the end of the 19th century in Russia by Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson, whose emigration to the US in the 1930s with a number of the works in tow has bolstered claims that the collection belongs in the US. Around 4,500 books and manuscripts from the collection, which was nationalised by the Bolsheviks in 1918, have been housed in the Jewish Museum and Centre of Tolerance in Moscow since last year, before which it was held in the Russian State Library.