2019-11-29 13:56:00

Moscow court arrests U.S. rabbi in absentia in Schneerson library case

Moscow, November 29, Interfax - The Tverskoy District Court of Moscow has sanctioned the arrest in absentia of Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber Levine, the director of the Agudas Chasidei Chabad Library based in the United States, who is charged with failure to return books from the Schneerson collection to Russia.

"The investigator's motion on Shalom Dov-Ber Levine's arrest in absentia has been granted. The measure of restraint in the form of two-month [arrest] is to begin from the moment of his detention or extradition to Russia," a court representative told Interfax.

The Russian investigators charged the rabbi in absentia with the failure to return culturally valuable items to Russia. He was initially added to federal wanted lists and subsequently declared wanted internationally.

The court did not clarify the charges. However, according to media, the charges were brought against 71-year-old Levine in May 2019. According to the investigators, he is an "active participant in the crime," and his involvement in the failure to return items of cultural value is proven by the testimony of witnesses among other evidence.

The witnesses in the case are Russia's Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar and Bolshaya Bronnaya Synagogue Rabbi Yitzhak Kogan.

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.