The President got acquainted with the work of the new specialised library department, which operates as a branch of the Russian State Library.
The Schneerson Library is a collection of Hebrew books and manuscripts dating from the 18th century to the beginning of the 20th, and includes about 12,000 books and 50,000 rare documents.
Vladimir Putin first proposed housing the unique collection at the Tolerance Centre in February this year, during a meeting of the Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Friends, good afternoon.
I will begin by saying that Russia has been a home to the Jewish people for centuries. Since its very inception, Russia has evolved as a multi-ethnic state and Jewish individuals have made enormous intellectual, military and labour contributions to the development of our nation. Throughout all times, they stood shoulder to shoulder with the other peoples of Russia to defend our nation when necessary, and as I already said, contributed greatly to its development.
I am very pleased that the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre, which opened a year ago, continues these traditions, showcasing the history of the Jewish people in Russia and in world history overall. It is making and will continue to make a significant input into its purpose of developing the very tolerance I just spoke of.
We feel that interfaith peace and interethnic and interreligious harmony are the foundation for the existence and further development of the Russian state. The Schneerson library is of interest and great value to Jewish people – not just for Russian Jews, but those living in other nations around the world as well. I hope that when it is transferred to the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre, this problem will be closed once and for all. Because any individual, regardless of whether he or she lives in Russia or abroad, can freely visit and view these rare books.
People can view, study and hold these books in their hands; they can use them to draw knowledge that is highly necessary in today’s world, because these books set forth eternal moral and ethical values which serve as the basis for any civilised society existing today.
I met with many of the people sitting in this hall several years ago, when rabbis from all around Russia gathered for a meeting at the Kremlin. I know that you, like any “military” organisation, have some job rotation. I hope there are some new faces here today as well. I want to wish you success. Naturally, when I talked about your “military organisation,” that was a joke, but a great deal of responsibility lies on your shoulders in educating people, supporting each individual that adheres to Judaism during difficult moments in their lives.
And such moments occur in the lives of every person of any faith. And here, a kind word and a clergy member’s steady hand are always needed. You have a difficult, highly responsible and exceedingly honourable mission. I want to wish you success.
Thank you very much for your service.
Vladimir Putin: The rabbi just mentioned the difficult fate of a clergy member who was arrested in 1927. He said that today’s event is truly momentous in the lives of Jewish people.
You know, I thought about something just now. The decision to nationalise this library was made by the first Soviet government, whose composition was 80–85% Jewish.
But they were guided by false ideological considerations and supported the arrest and repression of Jews, Russian Orthodox Christians, Muslims and members of other faiths. They grouped everyone into the same category.
Thankfully, those ideological goggles and faulty ideological perceptions collapsed. And today, we are essentially returning these books to the Jewish community with a happy smile. I congratulate all of you on this event.