The Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Library
October 1, 2013 8:26 AM   Subscribe

“I was there in Moscow for a year and a half, without anything, we thought we were going there for only a few days. I didn’t even have a coat with me. But the Rebbe had a policy: You don’t come back until you come back with the books.”
posted by NotMyselfRightNow (10 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Lubavitch/Chabad used to be a liberal Hasidic sect; since the Rebbe's death, they've gone a little whacko.
posted by Melismata at 9:13 AM on October 1, 2013


I met Reb Schneershon ZT"L a couple times at his Sunday walk through audience. He gave me two dollars!

The Rebbe was a larger than life person and I was walking into a scene tucked away in the middle of Brooklyn that would have seemed overdone in a film. The man had been educated secular in engineering at the Sorbonne. Very old, very tired, very smart, very determined to do good.

That there is a dispute about a library is not surprising, there were so many "appropriations" during and after WWII that will be many more decades before arguments are just between academics and historians.
posted by sammyo at 9:21 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Schneersohn collection is a “national treasure of the Russian people,” Russian officials gravely stated; the director of the Oriental Center Sergey Kukushkin echoed these thoughts in his introduction to the collection’s Russian State Library catalog that “the history of this collection is inseparable from the history of the Library itself, as well as from the history of Russia.”

No one ever seems to want to admit the roles Jewish people played in the history of their countries, but officials sure are keen to assert that those same peoples' stuff is priceless national treasures....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:32 AM on October 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


This is the same country that attempted to purge us out of it, right?

They don't give a shit about the books, they just don't want to get in the habit of giving shit that was confiscated by the state back to the 'rightful owners'.

Glad my great-grandmother got the hell out of there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:36 AM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's an excellent article that gives a very good picture of a complex situation; thanks for posting it.

> This is the same country that attempted to purge us out of it, right?

Russia has a deplorable history of anti-Semitism, though no, they never actually tried to get rid of all the Jews. (Unlike certain other countries, but never mind that now.) But this hardly suggests the Return of the Third Reich:
In June 2013, the Russian administration ruled that the collection would be transferred to Moscow’s new and wondrous Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center. The decision is unprecedented, for a national library collection to be transferred to another location—though the Museum will now be considered another branch of the Russian State Library, and will continue to be under Russian government ownership and control. Putin announced the decision as “an end to this problem once and for all,” which Chabad of Russia greeted as a victory for the Lubavitch movement. At President Putin’s press conference, one of Russia’s chief rabbis Berel Lazar opened his remarks with a “Gut yom tov,” while Hasidim danced and drank l’chaim’s.
Yes, of course this doesn't indicate a glorious conversion to philo-Semitism, but still: a new Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, chief rabbi Berel Lazar, Hasidim dancing... this isn't your Uncle Joe's Russia.
posted by languagehat at 10:52 AM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, well, beware Putin, even (especially?) when he's bearing gifts.
posted by orrnyereg at 12:56 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Russia has a deplorable history of anti-Semitism, though no, they never actually tried to get rid of all the Jews.

Not sure this is totally accurate. When the Pale of Settlement was established at the end of the 19th century, the goal was that a third of Russia's Jews would emigrate, a third assimilate, and the remaining third would die. (cite) . It wasn't as violent a purge as an outright genocide, but I still would categorize it as a purge.
posted by Mchelly at 2:28 PM on October 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the first place, it's not clear to me that Pobedonostsev (the alleged source of the "a third will die" quote) actually said that; I've been doing some checking, and it seems to go back to Simon Dubnow's 1923 book Евреи в России и западной Европе в эпоху антисемитской реакции [The Jews in Russia and Western Europe in the period of anti-Semitic reaction]. Dubnow was a fine scholar, but I'd want to know what he was citing; as we all know, a lot of "quotes" turn out to be distorted, misattributed, or just plain invented when you really dig into them. And when I search for the quote in 19th-century sources, I get nada.

But never mind that. Assuming for the sake of argument that he actually said it, and that he was in office when he did so, he was an important figure in the government, but he was by no means equivalent to the government, and anything he said was his own opinion unless it was inscribed into law. The Russian imperial government was by design totally fragmented; the only person who spoke for the country was the tsar. There wasn't even a cabinet in any sense we would recognize today; the Minister of the Interior never had anything to do with the Minister of the Army and the policies of the two branches were completely uncoordinated. Furthermore:

> When the Pale of Settlement was established at the end of the 19th century

The Pale of Settlement was established at the end of the 18th century (1791), not the 19th, and the goal was the containment of the Jews, not their expulsion. And needless to say, Pobedonostsev (1827–1907) had nothing to do with its creation or aim.

Look, I'm happy to agree the Russian Empire was officially and to a large extent socially a thoroughly anti-Semitic place. But these things are complicated, and it doesn't help to pick an inflammatory quote of uncertain provenance and treat it as if it were some kind of trump card. It's essentially irrelevant to this discussion.
posted by languagehat at 5:10 PM on October 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Languagehat wrote: The Pale of Settlement was established at the end of the 18th century (1791), not the 19th, and the goal was the containment of the Jews, not their expulsion.

But Jews actually were expelled from many parts of Russia (e.g., Moscow). The fact that they weren't expelled from the country was hardly a concession to humanitarianism; it just shows that the Russians deemed them to be more valuable as workers than as emigrants.

In any event, "containment" is the wrong word: I would rather describe it as a policy of concentration and restriction. Jews weren't generally allowed to live outside the Pale, and after an initial expansion its borders were gradually restricted and significant cities (e.g., Kiev) were removed. And anti-Semitic legislation prevented Jews from purchasing or managing rural land, which meant a gradual dispossession of farmers and other rural Jews and a drift towards the remaining towns in which Jewish residence was permitted. The same laws restricted Jewish access to further education and to finance, so the paths towards personal independence were being choked off. They were basically fumbling towards a policy of ghettoisation.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:14 PM on October 1, 2013


> The fact that they weren't expelled from the country was hardly a concession to humanitarianism; it just shows that the Russians deemed them to be more valuable as workers than as emigrants.

Well, duh. What's your point? The fact is, Russia did not attempt to "purge" all the Jews, which was the claim. If you're trying to insist that Russia was not friendly to Jews—again, duh. Nobody's denying that.

> In any event, "containment" is the wrong word: I would rather describe it as a policy of concentration and restriction.

I confess I don't really see the difference, but if "concentration and restriction" feels more satisfying to you, go for it.
posted by languagehat at 10:29 AM on October 2, 2013


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