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A Rabbi under Communism
THE RAVAGES OF WORLD WAR I led to revolution in Russia immediately following the war's end. Relatively minor at its outset, the revolution quickly took on a different dimension when government troops, ostensibly loyal to the Czar banded with his enemies to force the government's collapse. A new government was formed, but this was not enough to satisfy the Bolsheviks (Communists) who sought full control of the state and total elimination of their opposition.
In October of 1917, the Bolsheviks took power, supported by their Red Army, and the country was then plunged into a four-year civil war as the counter-revolutionary White Army battled the Reds for control of the land.
As the scene of battle moved along the Russian terrain, soldiers on both sides of the conflict would often vent their fury on the Jewish communities that stood in their path. While the Red Army was, at least officially, opposed to such behavior, this was not so of its opposition. The fact that many Jews were in the forefront of the Revolution and most other Jews embraced it because of its official stand against anti-Semitism was enough to reinforce the age-old anti-Semitism of the Czar's supporters. Many battalions in the White Army were composed of Cossack forces, who popularized the battle cry, "Strike at the Jews and save Russia!" Countless Jews in the Ukraine, where the Cossacks were primarily to be found, lost their possessions, their homes and often their very lives at the hands of these beastly hordes. White Russia, the province in which Minsk, Starobin, and Luban were located, remained relatively quiet until mid-1920.
TOWARD THE END OF 1920, however, White Russia was invaded by bands of bloodthirsty Cossacks. Starobin became the scene of a terrible pogrom. The Cossacks pillaged Jewish homes, mercilessly slaughtering many of their ;nnabitants. Afterwards, they seized Reb David Feinstein and led him away to the outskirts of the town, while demanding an exorbitant ransom from the remaining Jews in exchange for the safe return of their beloved Rav.
Well aware of the poverty prevalent in his town, the untrustworthiness of the Cossacks end probably afraid that payment of the ransom would encourage the Cossacks to repeat this practice in other Jewish towns, Reb David was ready to die rather than have the townspeople submit to his captors' demands. He somehow sent word to the townspeople that as Rav he strictly forbade them to pay the ransom.
Reb David's grandson, Rabbi Yechiel Michel Feinstein, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivah Beis Yehudah in Bnei Brak, recalls that horrifying time vividly. Fearful for his grandfather's fate, he sat in a room together with his uncle, Reb Moshe, who began reciting Tehillim from memory. Reb Moshe said each word slowly and distinctly so that his young nephew could repeat after him.
Soon after, for no explicable reason, the Cossacks decided to release Reb David. However, before letting him go, they insisted that he repeat a certain declaration that they recited to him in Polish, a language with which he was unfamiliar.
To this, Reb David responded, "I will not say something that I do not understand." The Cossacks again threatened him with death, but he remained unshaken. Finally, Reb David was released unharmed and returned to his grateful community and family.
IN LUBAN, ON LAG B'OMER of 1921, Reb Moshe seemed to have sensed an ominous atmosphere. He packed his most precious belongings his Torah manuscripts and fled the town. Minutes later, Luban was struck by a pogrom, and a bomb was detonated in the Rav's house. The assumption was that Reb Moshe had perished in the explosion.
Reb Moshe continued in his flight from the area until several days later when he simply collapsed. A Russian peasant found the package of writings and brought them to Reb Isser Zalman Meltzer who recognized them as belonging to Reb Moshe. He saw it as grounds to fear the worst, for Reb Moshe would never be separated willingly from his writings. Yet, when an inquiry came to him from Reb David Feinstein, asking if he had heard anything about Reb Moshe, Reb Isser Zalman replied, "I am confident that he is alive."
Sure enough, in a matter of days, a fatigued Reb Moshe Feinstein found his way to Slutzk, where he stayed with Reb Isser Zalman for an extended period of time.
When the Cossack threat had passed, Reb Moshe and the others who had survived the pogrom returned back to the ruins that had once been their homes. Infused with the Rav's spirit, faith and love, the survivors fought to overcome their personal tragedies and rebuild life anew. With the help of the surrounding communities, life in Luban slowly returned to normal.
To commemorate the Lag B'Omer pogrom, Reb Moshe never took advantage of the break in the Sefirah mourning period that Lag B'Omer offers. His Sefirah bridged the entire period without interruption.
After that short separation from his precious writings, Reb Moshe bought a handsome leather carrying-case for the sole purpose of taking his manuscripts with him whenever he traveled. A year later on the Tenth of Teves, on his way to visit his father and show him a manuscript of his chiddushim on Yerushalmi, the briefcase was stolen at a train station, probably because it was of such high quality. As a result, the fast of the Tenth of Teves always had an extra dimension of gravity in the Feinstein household.
IN THE FOLLOWING YEAR, Reb Moshe married Sima, the daughter of Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Kastonowitz, Luban's shochet and mohel and head of the Luban Jewish community. Rebbetzin Feinstein, who would be Reb Moshe's faithful partner in life for the next sixty-four years, bore him five children: two daughters, Faya and Sifra; and three sons, Pesach Chaim (who died of whooping cough as an infant) *, David and Reuven. All were born in Luban except Reuven who was born in the United States.
Reb Yaakov Moshe appreciated the great merit of having Reb Moshe as his son-in-law. Recognizing Reb Moshe's legendary diligence in Torah study, he did his utmost to insure that nothing would disturb it.
Reb Moshe's total concentration on Torah was legendary in Luban already in those years. One of his admirers was an elderly talmid chacham who could well appreciate the Torah greatness of the young Rav. In those days, the only time Reb Moshe took a nap during the day was on Shabbos. The elderly scholar would jokingly tell Rebbetzin Feinstein, "Don't let the Rav sleep! You are not allowed to let him sleep! Too much Torah is lost when he is not awake."
In general, the Rebbetzin took upon herself the burden of all material matters in the home, making certain that all was in order without interrupting Reb Moshe's holy work. She bore this responsibility with happiness and dignity, realizing full well that her husband's mission in life was greatly dependent on her. It can certainly be said that
* The heading to a chiddush in Dibros Moshe reads, "... said at the seudas bris milah of my first son, Pesach Chaim, who was taken from us, due to our many sins, on the fifth of Elul, 5686 (1926), and who will be returned to us at the time of techias hameisim." without the Rebbetzin's dedication, Reb Moshe may not have become the Torah giant that he was.
Rabbi David Povarsky, who lived in Luban as a young boy, recalls that the Feinstein household shone with exemplary middos. The respect this earned them among the town's inhabitants, including non-religious Jews and gentiles, would figure prominently in their surviving the many years of Communist oppression that lay ahead.
BY THE END OF 1921, the Communists had conquered all opposition and were in full control of what became known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.). While the Communists were opposed to all forms of religion and especially Judaism, they were too preoccupied in the formative years of their regime to make a concerted effort at subverting religious practices.
There was, however, one section of the Communist Party that, from its inception, expended great effort to destroy Jewish religious life. This was the Yevsektsia, the notorious "Jewish Section." It was composed of Jews who had shorn all traces of their Jewishness in the hope that this would gain them acceptance among the Communists. The Yevsektsia advocated the death of the Jewish religion. They opened a network of kindergartens, schools and youth clubs where there was no mention of Jewish history or faith and where "G-d" was treated as a superstition of backward people, R"L. Instead, Communist ideology and culture was taught with enthusiasm and fervor.
The Yevsektsia's open war against the religion of its ancestors began with ridicule of Jewish laws and customs. On the eve of Pesach they would send the local Rav a loaf of bread; they would choose the night of Yom Kippur to hold their mass meetings at which non-kosher food was served; and they would demonstrate in front of chadarim (religious elementary schools) bearing placards with slogans such as: "Down with the chadarim and yeshivos!" "Down with the black rabbis!" and "Let freedom live!" As time went on, chadarim in Russia were forced to close and teaching Torah to the young became a crime against the State.
In his addresses delivered in the main shul of Luban, Reb Moshe would allude to the new regime's edicts against his people. In an address delivered on the Shabbos before Pesach, 5682 (1922), he said:"We are redeemed, in a sense, even while we are in exile, for our own spirit can never be exiled. No one can claim mastery over our spirit; the decrees against us can only affect our bodies ...
"... This is cause for great rejoicing. We must, therefore, celebrate the Yom Tov with much beauty and splendor ... for we are not slaves ... We have no master but Hashem."
In Luban, the Jewish community was spared the wrath of the Party and the Yevsektsia until 1930, when the ruthless anti-Semite Joseph Stalin crushed the last remnants of opposition to his power, thus allowing him to turn his full attention to the Jews.
IN FACT, REB MOSHE CONSIDERED the five years from 1925 to 1930 as the most productive of his life. It was during this period that he wrote a famous teshuvah that challenged a ruling by Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky. The two responsa were brought to the attention of Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, in Vilna, who sided with Reb Moshe. He commented: "I have heard of the two brothers (Reb Moshe and his brother Reb Mordechai) deep in the Russian heartland, who learn Torah as it was studied a century ago!"
When, in 1936, Reb Moshe passed through Vilna on his way to America, he visited Reb Chaim Ozer, who was then the recognized leader of world Jewry and its foremost posek. During the course of their conversation, Reb Chaim Ozer mentioned that he had read Reb Moshe's above-mentioned teshuvah. "I have also written on this subject," he told his much younger visitor, "and my conclusion concurs with yours. However, your line of reasoning is superior to mine."
Throughout the 1920's, Reb Moshe responded in writing to halachic questions, sending teshuvos to people in Slutzk, Starobin, Amstislav and elsewhere. Many of these teshuvos were subsequently published in Igros Moshe, where we find among his correspondents his father, Reb David; Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky, then Rav in Slutzk; and Reb Moshe's friend from his days in Slutzk, Rabbi Eliezer Shach.
IN THE EARLY 1930's, the Jews of Luban were subjected to the religious oppression that was already a way of life for communities in other parts of Russia. The chadarim and main synagogue were closed down. A heavy tax was levied on the importation of religious articles. With many Jews suffering economically as punishment for their adherence to Torah, it became necessary for Luban and four neighboring towns to share in the purchase of a single lulav.
Everyone fulfilled the mitzvah of arba'ah minim by the minimal requirement of lifting the species, save for the five rabbanim who performed the na'anuim ritual. After Succos, the lulav was carefully preserved and made to last for another two years.
The Communists levied special taxes against rabbis to force their resignations. Most rabbis gave in to the Soviets and left their positions. Those who did not, paid the consequences, and they were severe. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, had already been imprisoned and expelled from the country in 1927. Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky was sentenced to hard labor in Siberia in 1930, and served for two years before foreign intervention gained his freedom. Many other rabbis were arrested and mistreated; many were never heard from again.
While Reb Moshe fell victim to Soviet oppression in the 1930's, he remained at his post as Rav in Luban until his departure for America in 1936. Whenever a rabbi resigned his position, the Communist press would feature the news with blaring headlines about how another rabbi had seen the true light. Reb Moshe considered this to be a public chillul Hashem and felt that it was forbidden for him to resign his position, even at the risk of death. In later years, Reb Moshe remarked that, ironically, the rabbanim who remained at their posts, though suffering for their recalcitrance, generally escaped deportation or prolonged imprisonment, while virtually all of those who acceded to the government's demands were exiled to Siberia.
Without a doubt, Reb Moshe's quiet, respectful manner and his avoidance of public encounters with the Communists kept him in relatively good standing with the regime and its supporters. Though there was no doubt where the Rav stood on religious issues, the government could tolerate a man who did not, at least publicly, attempt to show the fallacy of their brutal policies.
In private, though, Reb Moshe defied the Communists as much as anyone, if not more. When his father-in-law was forced by the Reb Moshe shortly before leaving Russia in 1936 government to cease practicing shechitah, Reb Moshe mastered the skill and became the town shochet. He continued to study Gemara with the men of the town, while inspiring and encouraging his people to remain strong in their faith and observance of every mitzvah, despite the persecutions.
Many years later, while discussing a particular page in Masechta Kreisus, Reb Moshe remarked wistfully, "This was the last daf (page) I studied with the men of Luban."
PERHAPS THE SINGLE most important factor in Reb Moshe's being allowed to remain Rav was the reverence he inspired from both Jew and gentile alike. While the religious Jews of Luban were in awe of his overall greatness, all were impressed by his wisdom and earnestness. Many Yevsektsia members were children of religious families and they could not bring themselves to make life difficult for the man whose mere mention evoked awe in their parents' home; in fact, some Jewish Communists tried secretly to protect him.
One particular incident illustrates both Reb Moshe's courage and effectiveness during those years. There was no possibility of maintaining a mikveh openly, but Reb Moshe found a way, nevertheless. With a combination of ingenuity, personality, daring and most important faith, he succeeded in having a mikveh built with the aid of the Communists themselves.
A municipal bathhouse and swimming pool were being built in Luban. Reb Moshe prevailed upon the non-Jewish contractor to build the pool in such a way that it would be a kosher mikveh.
With the construction taken care of, a problem of a different sort had to be solved. Men and women were expected to use the pool at the same time, something no religious Jew in Luban would dream of doing. Unless this situation could be changed, the pool would be useless as a mikveh.
Reb Moshe approached a high-ranking official, whose respect he had earned, and put the dilemma to him this way: The religious community wanted very much to enjoy the new sanitary facilities generously provided by the government, but would not bathe in mixed company. It was important, then, in the interest of public hygiene, that the bathhouse have a few separate men's and women's nights. The official agreed and the Jews had themselves a mikveh, the only one for miles around.
A responsum in Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim I §126) begins: "In our city Luban, after it became possible, through Hashem's kindness, to construct a mikveh (during the years of evil decrees) in a bathhouse run by the government, which was unaware that it was, in fact, a kosher mikveh ... "
The persecutions increased as time went on. The Feinstein family was forced out of its house by an exorbitant clergy tax, and Reb Moshe was harassed with the intention of forcing him to resign as rabbi. He answered that he was ready to turn over his meager earnings to the state an offer the Communists graciously accepted but he could not relinquish his position.
Reb Moshe's family moved into a room adjoining the Schneider's Shul [Tailor's Synagogue], the only synagogue in Luban still in Jewish hands. There, Reb Moshe, his Rebbetzin and their young children were forced to live along with Reb Moshe's in-laws and two other relatives.
Even then, Reb Moshe's diligence in study did not slacken. He continued to write voluminously and the Jews of Luban continued to revere him. Hashem was their G-d, Reb Moshe was their king, and they clung to him tenaciously.
REB MOSHE WOULD LATER SAY that it was during this period, with so many others sharing the same room, that he learned to study amid all sorts of distractions. When notebooks were often unavailable, he wrote his chiddushim on anything he could find. The Feinstein family still has old used ledger-sheets, on which he wrote between the columns of numbers.
What is incredible is how, throughout such frightening times, with the sword of interrogation and imprisonment constantly over him, Reb Moshe was able to put every fear and distraction out of his mind and grow uninterruptedly in Torah.
In his preface to Dibros Moshe, he writes, "I thank and bless Hashem Yisbarach, for all the kindness He has done me, until this day. He took me and my family from the place of shmad ... and even there, in the days of my suffering and oppression, He helped me so that I should lose little time from my study and analysis of the Torah." One can only conclude that Hashem was rewarding his utter devotion to the Torah with divine assistance, for such greatness under such circumstances seems nothing less than supernatural.
Once, Reb Moshe was taken from his room in the middle of the night for interrogation by the secret police. A prime purpose of such interrogation was to trap the person into making a statement that could be used as a proof that he was an 'enemy of the State.' Responding with wisdom and forethought, Reb Moshe did not fall into such a trap. He acquitted himself so well that the inquisitor apologized, saying that he had only wanted to gain insight into Judaism. In addition, thirty Jewish political prisoners were released in Luban.
Rebbetzin Feinstein vividly recalls those fearful times. "When the government evicted us from our home it seemed as if the next step was Siberia; but Hashem provided us with great miracles ..."
As wife of the Rav, she suffered her share of abuse at the hands of the Communists. The Feinstein girls, Faya and Sifra, were among the honor students of the local government school, which they were required to attend, but they were hardly welcomed with open arms. When one of them attempted on her own initiative to join a kindergarten at the age of four, she was told, "We will be in trouble if we register you, because you are the Rabbi's daughter."
She went home in tears, feeling like an outcast. "Why did you have to marry a rabbi?" she wailed, as her mother cried with her.
When a gathering was to be held at the government school for a group of outstanding students Faya among them and their parents, the Rebbetzin was very reluctant to go. She had already experienced an unpleasant exchange with a school official in her own home and, as she put it, "If they treated me this way in my own home, what sort of treatment could I hope for in their school?" In the end, however, she decided to attend the gathering, for Faya's sake.
As soon as the gathering commenced, an official announced that those who did not follow Communist Party ideology such as the Rav's wife were not welcome. The Rebbetzin was roundly booed and forced to leave the auditorium, as her humiliated daughter looked on.
Such anecdotes vividly illustrate both the torment and the courage of those who refused to relinquish their rabbinical positions. It is easier to endure poverty and harassment than to see one's wife and children tormented and humiliated. The Communists understood this quite well; it was part of their psychological warfare against the rabbis who would not surrender.
In 1936, Reb Moshe and his family were evicted from their cramped dwelling which, along with the adjoining Shnaiders' Shul," was being taken over by the government. Ignoring the risk involved in taking the Rav's family into his home, the old Jewish shoemaker of Luban invited Reb Moshe to come live with him. Of this brave Jew, the Rebbetzin says, "He, like the local wagon-driver, was fluent in all of Shas. During the time that we lived in the shul, I would see the two of them studying throughout the night."
The accommodations which the poor shoemaker could offer Reb Moshe's family were not very much. He took planks from a barn, and used them to erect makeshift walls near the kitchen stove. It was in this 'room' that Reb Moshe's family lived, along with the mice who came to warm themselves near the fire.
SEVERAL YEARS AGO, A DISTINGUISHED RAV asked Reb Moshe
why he remained at his post for so long and why he had let so many years pass before finally attempting to leave Russia.
Reb Moshe answered simply that he was the only practicing Rav remaining in his area and he felt it an obligation to stay and guide the Jews of Luban and its neighboring towns. He sought to emigrate only after it became clear to him that there was no alternative.
In 1939 in New York, Rabbi Moshe Bick was present at a conversation between Reb Moshe and Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, who was visiting America to raise funds for his yeshivah. Reb Moshe remarked that there were people who were upset with him for "deserting" his brethren in Russia.
Reb Elchonon responded that the Chofetz Chaim said that a country where it is forbidden to speak Hashem's Name is tantamount to a bathroom. "No one," he concluded, "can be expected to spend his whole life in such a place."
Reb Moshe sent word to friends and relatives in Eretz Yisrael and America, requesting their help in gaining admittance to their respective countries.
Time after time, Reb Moshe's applications for an exit visa were rejected with one exception. A cousin of Reb Moshe, reputed to be a millionaire, had fled across the Russian border to freedom. The authorities guaranteed Reb Moshe's family a visa if he would help them locate this man. Of course, Reb Moshe refused.
Once, Reb Moshe donned peasant's clothing and slipped into Moscow, in the hope of somehow procuring a visa there. A kind gentile family provided him with a place to sleep while he subsisted on a diet of potatoes and water. Whatever time was not needed for his mission he spent studying in a local beis midrash, where he blended in with the other Jews and would not be noticed by government agents.
One night while studying in the beis midrash, Reb Moshe became so engrossed that he failed to note the passage of time. When he finally looked up at the clock, the hour was well past midnight. Realizing that he would very likely wake someone in the household were he to return to his lodgings, Reb Moshe decided to spend the night in the beis midrash.
The next morning, he was greeted with incredible news. The previous night the secret police had raided homes in the district, in search of those who had gained illegal entry into the city. By not returning to his lodgings, Reb Moshe had escaped discovery and certain arrest.
A BROTHER AND SISTER of Rebbetzin Feinstein and a sister of Reb Moshe were able to get out of Russia and came to the United States.They were to become Hashem's agents in saving Reb Moshe and his family from the Communist purgatory and the Nazi Holocaust. Rabbi Nechemiah Kastonowitz, who shortened his name to Katz, became a rabbi in Toledo, Ohio, where he served for forty-eight years before his retirement. His sister Rebbetzin Zlata Levovitz lived in New York. Reb Moshe's sister Rebbetzin Chana Small lived in Chicago. Upon learning that Reb Moshe was trying in vain to leave Russia, they attempted to secure congressional assistance in gaining his family's freedom.
Senator William Edgar Borah (a Republican from Idaho) was one of the powers of the United States Senate. Until Roosevelt's Democratic landslide, Borah had been chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and was still the ranking Republican of that committee. Although Borah was an arch-conservative and isolationist, he had been one of the first to champion the cause of United States recognition of the Communist regime. As a result, he enjoyed a personal friendship with Soviet Ambassador Yanovsky.
Rabbi Katz and Rebbetzin Levovitz were convinced, therefore, that if Senator Borah would be willing to use his influence with Yanovsky, an exit visa could be pried out of the Soviets. But how could they reach Borah? Their initial attempts failed. They went to visit two congressmen from New York to ask them to intercede with Borah, but New York's liberal New Dealers wanted nothing to do with Borah. Instead, they provided personal letters to Yanovsky on Reb Moshe's behalf. Undaunted, Rabbi Katz then took his case to his own congressman, who arranged an appointment with Senator Buckley of Rabbi Katz's state of Ohio, in addition to providing his own letter to Yanovsky. Buckley, too, gave Rabbi Katz a personal letter for the Russian ambassador and, having a good relationship
A RABBI UNDER COMMUNISM / 49
COBETCKHX COIJHAJIHCTHHECKHX PECiiyEJIMK.
with Borah, he contacted the Senator, who agreed to provide his own letter as well.
When Rabbi Katz came to Borah's office, the senator was away, and one of his assistants, an elderly, sympathetic gentleman, received him very graciously. The man had instructions to give Rabbi Katz a letter on Borah's personal stationery but his typewriter was broken. Seeing Rabbi Katz's disappointment, he placed a call to the Russian Embassy and requested, in the name of Sen. Borah, that the rabbi be given an audience with the ambassador. After some persuasion, the request was granted. As an elated Rabbi Katz was about to leave the office, the gentleman tried again to repair the typewriter and succeeded. He typed the letter and Rabbi Katz, accompanied by Rebbetzin Levovitz, who spoke an eloquent Russian, were soon heading toward the Russian embassy, carrying with them letters from two senators and three congressmen.
Meanwhile, Reb Moshe's brother-in-law, Rabbi Isaac Small, worked through his own congressman, Adolph Sabath of Chicago, one of the most senior members of the House, who also exerted efforts on Reb Moshe's behalf.
Yanovsky was not in the least sympathetic to the plight of a rabbi in Luban. Rabbi Katz and his sister pleaded that they were not anti-Soviet; they merely wanted to be united with their family. Finally, in deference to Borah's "personal request," the ambassador said that he would forward all five letters to Moscow. In Moscow, too, the strong congressional sentiment, given added weight by the venerated name of William Edgar Borah, turned the tide. The Feinsteins were granted an exit visa.
BUT THERE WAS STILL A FORMIDABLE HURDLE to overcome.Those were the years when it was impossibly difficult for Jews to come to the United States. Again Rabbi Katz thought of a plan. He appealed to the secretary of the Ohio Democratic Party, a gentile who was known as a warm, sympathetic person. The secretary enlisted the aid of the state's lieutenant governor, who beamed as he listened to Rabbi Katz's story. The American consul in Riga, Latvia was an old friend of his! He got word to the consul, who agreed to process the papers for the family. So it was that as Rabbi Katz puts it they had the indescribable privilege of saving the future gadol hador (leader of the generation)!
On Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5695 (1936), the Feinstein family -Reb Moshe and his Rebbetzin, and their three young children and the Jews of Luban bid one another their sad farewells. Many of his dear ones remained behind in and around Luban: his in-laws, who were later murdered by the Nazis; his brother, Rabbi Mordechai Feinstein, the Rabbi of Shklov, who was taken from his holiday table on Shavuos and deported to Siberia where he died; and many others.
Even though the Feinsteins had all the documents they needed to leave Russia legally and safely, they still had to fear that the Communist authorities in Luban might prevent them from going. To help avoid this possibility, they left town under cover of darkness, in a horse and wagon that would take them to the nearest railroad station. The townspeople, too, did not want to endanger their beloved Rav and his family by a public farewell. They slipped out of the town at night and parted from Reb Moshe on the road.
Reb Moshe had expected to encounter difficulties in taking along his hundreds of pages of manuscripts, so he devised a method for transporting many of them safely out of Russia. Every day he would mail several pages of his writings to each of some thirty relatives in America in the guise of correspondence, mailing them from different villages to ward off suspicion. He did not put a return address on the envelopes or enclose a signed personal note, lest the authorities concoct some accusation against him. He had hoped that the relatives would understand that the writings were his and why he mailed them. His hopes were vindicated, for almost all of the "mail" eventually was returned to him in the States.
The family went to Moscow to pick up its exit visa, and then to Riga. At the border between the USSR and Latvia, the Russian border authorities confiscated a package of his writings, claiming it was anti-Soviet propaganda. Other manuscripts were left behind in Luban. They were destroyed by the Nazis.
In Riga, Reb Moshe was invited to become Rav of Dvinsk, as successor to the famed Rogatchover Gaon, who had recently passed away. But he decided to go on to the United States, where he arrived in Shevat 5697 (1937).
When the boat carrying the Feinstein family docked at New York Harbor, it was met by a number of prominent rabbanim who had come to welcome the forty-one-year-old gaon from Luban. While the vast majority of America's Orthodox Jews had never even heard of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, many talmidei chachamim had. The Iron Curtain had not blocked news of Reb Moshe's greatness in Torah.
An issue of the Torah periodical HaPardes, published soon after the Feinsteins' coming to these shores, heralded Reb Moshe's arrival:
"... This gaon, renowned in Europe as a great personage, is a giant in Torah, amazingly fluent in all of Talmud Bavli, Yerushalmi, Rishonim and Acharonim and (is known for) the many original Torah thoughts with which he responds to questions.
"... It is hoped that he will find a rabbinic position in this country, through which the glory of his Torah will be heard."
Little did anyone dream to what degree the "glory of his Torah" would shine forth for the next fifty years.
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