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Russia Refuses to Return Jewish Manuscripts

December 12th, 2023

Russia is being sued by a Jewish organization over the return of historic Jewish manuscripts that have been held there for over a decade.

The conflict in Ukraine has highlighted numerous religious tensions across Russia, Ukraine, and the West. It began when elements of the Ukraine military were accused of blatant Nazism – with many soldiers of the Azov Brigade proudly wearing swastikas and other far-right symbols on their uniforms. Controversy ensued when Ukraine hid precious relics associated with the Russian Orthodox Church, often in “secret labyrinthian caves.” The latest development in the religious backstory of the Ukraine war involves lost Jewish manuscripts. 

Russia Hires Philadelphia Law Firm to Defend Itself in Court

On November 27, it was reported that a large law firm with offices in Moscow and Philadelphia was dropping its representation of the Russian state bank VEB in an ongoing legal issue involving missing Jewish manuscripts.

This story began in 2004 when a Jewish group in the United States sued Russia for failing to return the texts. In 2010, US District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered Russia to return the “sacred books” of Jewish origin. Since that day, Russia has been fined $50,000 every 24 hours, and the total has now reached a sum of almost $200 million. Russia has refused to return the books time and time again. 13 years later, the former Soviet nation is still fighting in court to have this case dismissed. 

Western Media Reports Fail to Mention Key Details

The American Jewish group seeking to have these texts returned is the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch group. Also known simply as Chabad, this is one of the most well-known Orthodox Jewish movements in the world. The movement has its roots in Eastern Europe, having first been established in a small Polish town during the late 16th century. It is worth mentioning that this town was part of the Russian Empire at the time. 

In the early 17th century, the movement was relocated to a town in present-day Russia. Over the years and throughout numerous wars, the Chabad movement eventually branched out and established itself in the United States – particularly in Brooklyn. With the rise of the Bolsheviks, followers of Chabad were heavily persecuted in Russia, and many were executed or exiled. Despite this, Chabad remained active throughout the Soviet era and survives in modern Russia to this day. Perhaps most notably, Chabad is not persecuted by Vladimir Putin. On the contrary, representatives of the Chabad movement in Russia have been personally awarded the Order of Friendship and other awards by Putin. 

With this information in mind, any efforts to frame Russia’s refusal to return the historic texts as anti-semitic are misguided. In fact, this legal battle represents a conflict within Chabad itself – particularly between the Brooklyn faction and the Russian faction. What many Western media sources – including Reuters – fail to mention is that these sacred books have been transferred to the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow – which is overseen by the Chief Rabbi in Russia, Berel Lazar. In addition, Russian authorities painstakingly scanned and uploaded each of the sacred documents in the collection, making them freely accessible to anyone with an internet connection. This reality stands in contrast to the West’s portrayal of the situation, which makes it seem as though Russia is holding the books hostage in some kind of Nazi military facility or Indiana Jones-style warehouse. 

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