Moscow, November 28, Interfax - The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia (FJCR) is perplexed by Russian investigative authorities' plans to seek the arrest of Rabbi Shalom Dovber Levine, the director of the Agudas Chasidei Chabad Library based in New York City, in the case concerning the transfer of the so-called Schneerson collection of books.
"This is yet another act of an absurd judicial proceeding, which has lasted for a decade and which involved something like mutual fines in its previous phases. This too is an absolutely absurd measure," FJCR spokesperson Boruch Gorin told Interfax in commenting on an article published in Moskovsky Komsomolets saying that the Interior Ministry department for Moscow formally asked Moscow's Tverskoy District Court to issue an arrest warrant for Rabbi Levine.
"Levine is an outstanding bibliographer, and he heads the very library that is litigating with the Leninka [the Russian State Library, the largest Russian national library used to be named after Vladimir Lenin] over the Schneerson book collection," Gorin said.
"This is an armchair academic, who clearly isn't into stealing books," he said.
The matter concerns seven books that former Russian Culture Minister Yevgeny Sidorov handed to U.S. Vice President Al Gore in 1994 on a so-called interlibrary loan to the Library of Congress.
"Of course, nobody returned them, and now Rabbi Dovber Levine has been held criminally liable as an authorized individual. What can I say? All of this would be funny if it wasn't so sad," Gorin said.
The Schneerson Library comprises 12,000 books and 25,000 documents. This is a collection of old Jewish books and manuscripts compiled by Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson in the Russian Empire late in the 19th century. Part of the collection was nationalized by the Bolsheviks in 1918 and eventually joined the collection of the Lenin Library (now the Russian State Library). Schneerson managed to take the other part of the collection out of the Soviet Union while emigrating in the 1930s.
The New York-based Chabad-Lubavitch religious community has been seeking the Schneerson collection's handover since late 1980s. In August 2010, a federal judge in Washington, Royce Lamberth, ruled that the Hasidim proved the legitimacy of their claims to the ancient Jewish books and manuscripts, which, in his definition, are kept at the Russian State Library and the Russian Military Archive illegally. The Russian Foreign Ministry challenged the judgment.
It was reported on January 17, 2013, that a U.S. district court in Washington had ruled to oblige Russia to pay $50,000 a day as a fine until the Schneerson collection is returned to Chabad-Lubavitch.
The Schneerson book collection's transfer to the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, within which the Russian State Library opened its branch, started at Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal in 2013. The library provided all the necessary conditions for accommodating the collection, and all those wishing received access to it.
A Russian court ruling that took effect in July 2014 obliges the Library of Congress to return to Russia seven books from the Schneerson collection, which Moscow lent to the Library of Congress on an interlibrary loan in 1994 at the U.S.' request.
Having received the books, the Congress passed them to the Agudas Chasidei Chabad Library. When the return deadline expired, the U.S. asked Russia for extending the loan term. The Russian State Library granted such extensions at the Culture Ministry's permission in 1995-1996. The Hasidim community proposed in 2000 that the books be exchanged for others and offered a list of such books to choose from, but Russia did not agree.