Judge Royce Lamberth, a federal judge of the District of Columbia, will request Israel for their assistance in a dispute with Russia over religious texts.
The dispute involves the Chabad-Lubavitch movement demanding that Russia relinquish a collection of texts that are invaluable to the movement. So far, Russia has refused to hand them over.
According to The National Law Journal, Chabad told Judge Lamberth on Tuesday that Kedem Auction House in Israel was able to a get hold of one of the texts, so they requested that Lamber ask an Israeli court to mandate Kedem to explain how they obtained the book. Lamberth approved their request and issued a legal letter to an Israeli court.
“Chabad has brought to this court’s attention the apparent intention of the Witness, Kedem Auction House Limited of Jerusalem, Israel, to auction a volume that has been identified as part of the Chabad library in Russia’s possession,” the letter reads. “Based on information presented to this Court and found to be credible, the volume is subject to this Court’s previous judgment and order.”
Lamberth also reportedly ruled that the book obtained Kedem shouldn’t be sold.
The texts in question involve a collection of 12,000 books and 25,000 handwritten documents that were stored by Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn during World War I, which is why they are known as “the Schneerson collection.” Rabbi Chaim Cunin told Deseret News that these documents feature “notes from rabbis” and “personal thoughts and teachings.”
“The documents include the stories and struggles of people who, in some cases, only exist on these pages,” said Cunin.
The Russians seized half of the Schneerson collection in 1918; the rest were seized years later by the Nazis. In the aftermath of World War II, the Soviet Union got their hands on them.
Chabad first filed a lawsuit against Russia to return the texts in 2004. Russia withdrew from the case in 2009 and has refused to hand them over, claiming that Chabad has no legal claim to it. However, Tablet’s Avital Chizik has written that the Russians are simply afraid of “setting a legal precedent for returning nationalized Soviet property at large.”
Russia’s refusal to hand over texts prompted Lamberth to sanction them $50,000 per day in 2013, which has accumulated to $83.5 million. Chabad argued on Tuesday that the sanctions should be increased to $100,000 per day.
All 100 U.S. senators have called for Russia to release the texts. The Department of Justice has also sided with Chabad, although they are wary of further sanctions that may result in Russia taking retaliatory measures.