President Vladimir Putin said that a years-long spat with the United States over thousands of Jewish religious writings should end now that some are on display in Moscow’s new Jewish museum.
Russia has resisted calls to return the so-called Schneerson collection to the New York-based Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch group, descendants of the last private owner of the writings, and Putin said they were part of Russia’s cultural heritage.
The Schneerson collection consists of thousands of Jewish books, religious papers and manuscripts, some of them dating back to the 16th century, their leather-covered spines showing the effects of age.
The 4,425 books that will be kept at the museum include editions of the Torah and Talmud with unique margin notes by Hasidic leaders of the Chabad-Lubavitch community, which considers the whole collection its inheritance.
The books were left for safekeeping from the turmoil of World War I in a warehouse in what is now western Russia’s Smolensk province, but later were taken by the newly installed Bolshevik state and finally kept in Russia’s state library until recently.
The 500 books that have been brought to the museum are held in glass-covered bookstalls in a room with regulated humidity and the temperature set at 18 degrees C to preserve the paper. The rest are to be moved there by the end of the year.
Another part of the Schneerson collection rests in Russia’s military archive after being confiscated by Soviet troops in Nazi Germany during World War II.
Those papers had fallen into Nazi hands after their last private owner, the late Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi Yosef Schneerson, fled the Soviet Union in late 1920s and wandered around Eastern Europe in search of a safe place.
The Chabad-Lubavitch community originated under the Russian Empire and Yosef Schneerson was born to it in 1880. He set up the collection to bring together religious books and writings of his kin before fleeing for New York where he died in 1950.
Up to 1 million Jews live in Russia after the population dwindled in tsarist-era pogroms, Soviet oppression of religion and emigration in recent decades.