Inventions and Datelines
To the Editor:
Reading Nicolas Slonimsky’s charming memoir of his Russian grandfather [“My Grandfather Invented the Telegraph,” January], whose actual priority in conceiving the principles of the telegraph was thought by the Boston Traveler to be a bit of crude Soviet propaganda, recalls to mind a reverse case in which I was involved at the height of Stalin’s campaign to demonstrate that the Russians had invented everything first.
While correspondent of the New York Times in Moscow, I wrote a story one day mentioning Halley’s comet. Some imp inspired me to add the words, “or Ivanov’s comet, as it is known in Russia in honor of its Russian discoverer.”
Strict as was the Soviet censorship in Stalin’s day, the reference to the “Russian discoverer, Ivanov” whizzed through and the dispatch was delivered intact to Forty-third Street in New York City and duly printed, Ivanov and all.
I keep watching succeeding editions of the Bolshaya Sovyetskaya Entsiklopediya for a learned article on Ivanov. It hasn’t appeared yet. But I expect it will.
Harrison E. Salisbury
New York Times
New York City
To the Editor:
Nicolas Slonimsky included among his grandfather’s speculations the “theoretical” difficulty faced by Orthodox Jews in relating to the establishment of a Jewish dateline in the Far East. He might be interested to learn that this problem (as detailed in my book, Japanese, Nazis, and Jews) became a very practical one for the hundreds of talmudic scholars and rabbis who came to Kobe, Japan, as refugees during 1940-41, on their way to Shanghai.
Amidst the many problems . . . which faced the refugees in Kobe, one group, primarily the rabbinic and yeshiva element, was concerned with a rather interesting halakhic problem: on which day is the Sabbath or Yom Kippur once you have crossed the international dateline? . . .
The Russian-Jewish communities of Japan and Manchuria followed the ruling of their Chief Rabbi, Aaron M. Kiseleff of Harbin, and observed all Jewish holidays according to the local calendar. Rabbi Kiseleff’s views, however, were not considered authoritative by the scholarly students of the yeshivas. . . .
While en route to Kobe, Rabbi Aaron Kotler, a leading rabbinic scholar, anticipated the problem. He cabled to Jerusalem . . . for a ruling. Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, Chief Rabbi of the Holy Land, immediately called an assembly of scholars in September 1941 to clarify the law on this matter. The conclusion reached by this assembly concurred . . . with the ruling of Rabbi Kiseleff; that is, that the local calendar for both the Sabbath and the forthcoming Yom Kippur should be followed. The only dissenting voice was that of Rabbi Avraham-Shaye Karelitz, better known as the “Khazon Ish” . . . who ruled that the refugees should observe the Sunday in Kobe as their Sabbath, eat on the Yom Kippur as celebrated in Kobe (Wednesday), and fast on the following day.
In deference to the great authority of Rabbi Karelitz, yet not desiring to go contrary to the assembly’s ruling, the yeshiva students observed the Sabbath for two days. In order to avoid a two-day fast on Yom Kippur, most of the rabbinic groups and yeshiva students left Kobe for Shanghai a few weeks before their deadline. However, the small contingent which remained observed Yom Kippur . . . for two days, though only the stronger ones fasted two complete days. . . .
Queensborough Community College
Bayside, New York