By COLlive reporter
Rabbi Sholom Ber Levine, Director of the Library of Agudas Chasidei Chabad in Brooklyn, NY, and on the team to retrieve the Schneerson Archive, said the latest move by the Russian government was predictable.
“Every time the pressure on the Russian government was intensified to return the books, the government immediately replied that they intend to open a museum,” he said.
500 from a collection of 4,425 books belonging to Chabad were transferred Thursday to Moscow’s Jewish museum, with the rest said to be moved there by the end of the year.
In a press conference Thursday, in the presence of Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar and local Shluchim, President Vladimir Putin said he hopes the transfer “will put an end to this problem once and for all.”
It remains unclear whether the move will defuse the diplomatic and legal tug-of-war that started even before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and has weighed on bilateral ties between Moscow and Washington.
Moscow reacted angrily when a U.S. judge ruled in January that Russia should pay $50,000 a day in fines for failure to return the books.
THE REBBE PREDICTED IT
In a public letter Thursday, Rabbi Levine said the case is far from over and that the Rebbe has predicted such a move and tried to prevent it in the past.
He is one of the four representatives appointed by the Rebbe to handle the case. (The others are Rabbi Shlomo Cunin of California, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Aharonov of Israel and Moscow Rabbi Yitzchak Kogan who is supporting Putin’s move).
Levine said that in Sivan 5751 (1991), Moscow Shlucha Devora Rochel Kogan wrote to the Rebbe about the plan to open a local Chabad library (not related to the case).
The Rebbe replied (as printed in the book Avodas Hakodesh): “Opening a new library of Chabad now in Russia can raise a claim by the opponents that taking out Chabad books from Russia now – the opposite is more fitting.”
Rabbi Levine explained that a presence of a local Chabad library can give the government the excuse of transferring the books there “and not returning them to Chabad’s center” in Brooklyn.
The museum in Moscow, where the books will be held, was founded by Rabbi Lazar and was personally supported by Putin. Rabbi Alexander Boroda, Chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia is said to be the museum’s director (although there is no mention of this on the museum’s website).
Rabbi Levine added that the option to have the Schneerson Archive given on loan to the Chabad library in Brooklyn was raised in 1991 and was outright rejected by the Rebbe. “It is completely unfounded as the books belong to Chabad and should be returned to it,” the Rebbe said at the time.
“JUST A STEP”
The U.S. based Agudas Chasidie Chabad declined to comment on the matter and told COLlive that Thursday’s statement that was sent to the press by the Lewin & Lewin law firm was not made on their behalf.
Menachem Cohen, editor of our sister-site COL.org.il and the Kfar Chabad magazine, has flown down to Moscow for the press conference among other Israeli journalists by Lazar’s Ohr Avner Foundation.
Cohen said he has spoken to a key leader in the Chabad operation in Russia who told him that they see Putin’s solution only as a “step” in the case, and not the final settlement.
“The books were in captivity and this is a very happy development,” said the person who asked to remain unnamed because of the sensitivity of the issue in Russia.
The person stated that “the step by President Putin brings the books closer to their natural place, exactly as the Rebbe wanted. President Putin did not rule out the fact that the books will be returned to the Aguch Library” in New York.
Past and current quotes by President Putin suggested the opposite. Putin said the return would be “impossible” because it risks opening “a Pandora’s box,” creating a precedent for surrendering ownership of state property, Bloomberg News reported in February.