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2011-05-20 digital edition

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May 20, 2011  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

U.S. Justice Department may intervene in Chabad-Russia feud over texts

(JTA) — The U.S. Justice Department may weigh in on the ownership of Chasidic texts held in Russia in a case that some experts fear could jeopardize Russia-U.S. cultural ties.

The Associated Press reported the U.S. Justice Department asked for time to review the case in court papers filed May 16. Since January, the Russian government has canceled art loans promised to American museums — its stated response to the Chabad victory in its lawsuit against Russia.

In 2010, a U.S. District Court compelled Russia to return two major collections of Judaica seized by early Soviet governments. The Russian Federation ignored the judgment, having pulled out of the case in 2009 on the grounds of sovereign immunity.

Then beginning in 2011, Russia began canceling loans to major American institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery in Washington, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and Houston Museum of Natural Science, saying it feared the artifacts would be similarly “seized.”

Chabad attorneys submitted a statement and letter to the State Department declaring that it will not try to enforce last year’s judgment by seizing cultural objects lent by Russia to American museums and legal experts in the U.S. called the Russian fears “far-fetched.”

In 1991, Soviet officials agreed to return the “Schneerson Collection” to Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn, NY. The collection, now being held in Russian state repositories, includes thousands of handwritten texts dating back to 1772. The Russian Federation has refused to honor the 1991 agreement, and has resisted Chabad claims since that time, stating that the documents are part of Russia’s cultural heritage.

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