Charismatic Jewish Group Wages International Legal Fight for Its Spiritual Soul

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A charismatic religious Jewish group is in an international legal battle against the Russian Federation, literally fighting for its spiritual soul. At stake is the right to possess the precious archive and library of the orthodox Jewish group known as Chabad.
The books and papers were plundered and fell from the movement’s control in Europe during the war-torn decades of the last century. The story of how Russia came to control the historic collections is nothing less than a chronicle of the mystical Lubavitch Jews of Poland and Russia during the tempestuous events of Czarist repression, the Bolshevik Revolution, World Wars I and II, the Cold War period, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the rise of the modern Russian Federation. The story of Chabad’s efforts to reclaim their papers is a bitter saga spanning all those periods.

Remarkably, Chabad has achieved a stunning legal victory—for now, thanks to the persistent efforts of a legal team headed by the Washington law firm of Lewin and Lewin, LLP. Known for championing Jewish causes— Nathan Lewin and Alyza Lewin -- sometimes called “attorneys for the Tribe,” worked together with attorneys from Howrey LLP and Bingham McCutchen LLP to obtained a rare federal court decision commanding Russia to preserve the books and documents and instructing Russia to provide the Court with a written description of the steps it is taking to preserve the books and manuscripts.

The Court issued the unusual order after Chabad submitted evidence showing that 12 extremely valuable and sacred handwritten documents written by the Third Lubavitcher Rebbe were removed from the Russian Military Archive and transported to Jerusalem -- possibly for sale to collectors of Judaica. But few in the case are confident. Pyrrhic victories in this case have been piling up for almost a century.

The disputed collection goes back to the Jewish movement’s origin in the 18th Century when the first “Lubavitcher Rebbe” emerged. The first Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, attracted followers in the much-disputed Eastern European regions, now known in the main as Poland and Russia. Six successor Rebbes have continued his philosophy and spiritual devotions, stressing mind over emotion. Their collected wisdom is largely enshrined in 381 manuscripts, 12,000 rare books and 25,000 handwritten archival documents at heart of the dispute. The Lubavitch group is now represented by the Hassidic organization known as Agudas Chasidei Chabad. Chabad argues that these collections represent “the most central wisdom, comprehension and knowledge” of the Lubavitch Rebbes, or spiritual leaders. Without those documents, Chabad is without its spiritual soul. Indeed, the word “Chabad” itself is an acronym for the Hebrew words for “central wisdom, comprehension and knowledge.”...

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