Did the Zionists Cause the Arrest?
July 21, 2016
rena g in #1030, 12 Tammuz, Chabad History

The Frierdiker Rebbe was released on Yud Bais Tamuz 5687 (July 12, 1927). In the archives of the American Joint Distribution Committee there are interesting documents discussing the arrest of the Frierdiker Rebbe, and what the JDC thinks was the cause of his arrest

The story of the arrest and liberation of the Frierdiker Rebbe is well known and extensively documented. One of the actions which preceded his arrest was his public opposition to theConvention of Rabbiswhich was planned in 1927. This installment will present some documents which were sent by officers in the JDC which discuss the arrest of the Frierdiker Rebbe, and the causes behind it, specifically this convention and the people behind it.

These fascinating documents are part of the JDC Archives (which were digitized and uploaded online, thanks to a grant from Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE).

Rabbi Schneerson Was Trapped Into The Situation

On July 14, 1927 [14 Tamuz 5687] Dr. Cyrus Adler (Philadelphia) sends a letter to Mr. Jacob Billikopf, a member of the directorate of the UJA (Federation) discussing the situation of the Frierdiker Rebbe and his request for more funds for Jewish work:

I have your letter of July 11th, enclosing the documents which you received from Rabbi Shneerson, for which I thank you. They were very interesting reading. Doctor Rosen told me on the telephone the other day that he had a paper from Rabbi Shneerson, which he would send me, but so far I have not received it.

You must have read in the newspapers recently that Rabbi Shneerson was arrested. The Joint Distribution Committee received a cablegram from Rabbi Kook, from Jerusalem, urging us to aid in his release and this was promptly done and he is now free. However, that fact alone indicates that it is not possible to push too hard the Jewish cultural work in Russia, of course, Rabbi Shneerson was really trapped into the situation by some of his Jewish friends. The Zionists, who always want conferences, insisted upon a conference in Leningrad. He was rather reluctant, but acceded. Of course, this conference attracted the attention of the government, which probably for purposes of demonstration, found it necessary to do something.

I wish, of course, that we might send them more funds, but how on earth this can be done, on the present financial situation of the Joint Distribution Committee, I do not know. I will take the matter up with Doctor Rosen when I have a chance to talk to him…

Did Zionist Cause the Arrest of the Frierdiker Rebbe?

On September 16, 1927 [19 Elul 5687] Mr. Joseph C. Hyman (JDC) writes a lengthy letter to Dr. Cyrus Adler (Philadelphia) detailing a press conference with Dr. Joseph Rosen (JDC Russia), where most of what was said, was not to be published… This conference also discussed the arrest of the Frierdiker Rebbe and the involvement of the Zionists in causing this arrest:

I thought you would be Interested in hearing something of what took place at the luncheon conference of the Yiddish press representatives. There were twelve representatives of various Yiddish journals, including Mr. David Mosessohn, the editor of the Jewish Tribune, who sat down with Dr. Rosen.

Dr. Rosen spoke in the frankest fashion to these men, and made an excellent impression on them, I feel. Of course, he pointed out that he was not to be quoted, and that necessarily, a good deal of what he said must remain within the four walls of the conference room itself…

Dr. Rosen then went on to speak of the position of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Schneerson, and of the unfortunate differences in the community which had brought about Rabbi Schneerson’s arrest. He pointed out that very largely this had been due to violent partisan differences as to the proposed religious conference, between Rabbi Schneerson’s adherents on the one hand and the proponents of the conference on the other. These differences, he stated, had permitted certain leaders who happened to be Zionists to place the Rabbi in a position where the government had to arrest him…

Dr. Rosen, In conclusion, asked those present to regard his comments and discussion as confidential.

You will note that I have marked this letter as confidential and thought it best to mail it to your home rather than to your office.

The “Sensational Report” with the “Real Reason”

A few days later, on September 21, 1927 [24 Elul 5687] the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) published a “Sensational Report” on the arrest and liberation of the Frierdiker Rebbe, citing “well informed circles in Moscow” connecting the arrest with the Rabbinic conference:

Revelations concerning the recent arrest and release of Rabbi Schneursohn, the famous Russian Jewish religious leader, known as the Lubowitscher Rebbe, and head of the Chassidic Chabad school, which has numerous followers throughout Jewish communities of the world, were contained in reports received here from Moscow.

Rabbi Schneursohn was arrested by the Soviet authorities in the middle of June and was brought to Moscow where he was ordered exiled to Kostroma. The order of exile was then revoked. After spending a month in prison he was released the middle of July and granted permission to leave Russia, the Latvian government having permitted him to settle permanently in Riga.

The imprisonment of Rabbi Schneursohn who is held in high esteem by Russian Jews and who has never before been interfered with by the Soviet authorities during all the years of the Soviet regime gave room for much speculation as to the cause of his arrest and the sudden decision to release him. In Chabbad Chassidic circles his arrest and release are viewed as an event similar to that which befell his great grandfather who was arrested during the regime of Nicholas I and whose release is still considered in Chassidic tradition a miracle.

The original report concerning the Rabbi’s arrest stated that the charge against him concerned his alleged activities to raise funds for the maintenance of his Yeshiva, which has been in existence for a long time with the Soviet authorities taking no cognizance of it.

Well informed circles in Moscow, according to the reports received here, trace the arrest of Rabbi Schneursohn to a serious party conflict within Russian Jewry and place the responsibility for the course of the events upon certain Jewish leaders. The controversy centered around the proposed conference of Jewish kehillahs in the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, which is to be held in Leningrad on October 21, with the permission of the Soviet government, being the first of its kind to be held since the establishment of the Soviet regime.

Permission to hold this conference was granted by the government following the submission of a memorandum on this question by the leaders of the Jewish kehillah in Leningrad. It is stated that although there was unanimous agreement that some steps are necessary for consolidating the Jewish religious activities in Soviet Russia and trying to widen their scope as much as possible, and although the agenda of the conference was approved by the government, Rabbi Schneursohn and the group of rabbis associated with him voiced their opposition to the holding of this conference at the present time. They contended that in view of prevailing conditions it would be impossible to elect a truly representative body of Russian Jewry and that why committee which might result from this conference would not be endowed with the power to carry on the work and have the religious authority required.

This attitude of the Lubowitscher Rebbe called forth resentment among the initiators of the Leningrad conference. To remove his opposition they decided, it is stated, to discredit him in the eyes of the Soviet authorities, an action which resulted in his arrest.

This charge against the initiators of the Leningrad conference could not be verified for obvious reasons. Rabbi Schneursohn’s release was brought about by the intercession of his friends, the echoes of the event abroad and the guarantee of the Jewish community of Moscow for the Rabbi’s complete loyalty. It was stated that Michael Kalinin, president of the Soviet Republic, has interested himself in the case.

This development has made uncertain the fate of the Leningrad kehillahs conference. There is no definite knowledge as to whether or not it will convene on October 21. The reports add that the resentment against the action of the conference initiators is so strong among religious Jews that it is planned by even those communities which originally intended to send representatives, to boycott the conference.

According to the original plan 110 kehillahs throughout the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics were to send 179 delegates. The agenda included questions pertaining to the establishment of Mikvehs, ritual baths; the founding of Yeshivas and maintenance for rabbis and synagogue officials. The conference was also to consider the question of the Chedarim, the Jewish religious schools; the printing of religious books and the problem of Sabbath observance. It was also to consider a plan to create a Union of Kehillahs in Soviet Russia.


Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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