Rabbinical Responsa in the USSR
IN THE SPRING OF 1960, a friend of mine, an American who made frequent trips to the Soviet Union, entrusted to me a curious sheaf of Hebrew manuscripts. Several months later, I personally delivered the papers to the addressees: rabbinical scholars in Israel. What I handed over to them consisted of some twenty sheets of responsa- opinions on points of Jewish law-by Soviet rabbis, in several handwritings and on two kinds of paper: long, lined sheets, scissored from a schoolchild’s notebook, which had been brought out from Russia by my friend, and regular old-fashioned letterfold sheets which had followed him in the mails after his departure, under the guise of family correspondence.
There was nothing subversive about these documents. They had been sent circuitously only because their authors knew that evidence of the mere functioning of Jewish religious law inside the Soviet Union, and of juridical consultations with rabbis abroad, could bring down disaster. The Soviet rabbis’ purpose was innocent enough. Dealing in their responsa with several novel situations, they wished to place their own opinions before the larger synod of the world rabbinate. They were themselves too much a part of the Soviet circumstance to be aware, perhaps, how revealing the several situations they discussed were of the entire Soviet Jewish condition.
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