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Internet Judaism gadfly Dov Bear related the following story about the Vilna Gaon on Facebook, saying he'd heard it somewhere, and asked if anyone knows a source for it.

The great Gaon of Vilna sat with voice but no vote on the Council of the Jews of Vilna. His task was to comment from a Torah perspective on new legislation proposed before the Council. When there was no such new legislation, he did not take part in the meeting.

One day a member of the Council put forward a proposal for greatly reducing the influx of Jews from poorer regions into Vilna, where they hoped for a better life. The Gaon rose to leave the meeting. "But Rabbi," said a Councilmember, "we need your comment on this proposed new legislation!"

"What new legislation?" said the Gaon. "This was already the law of Sodom, long ago!" And he left.

The proposal was dropped.

Is this story documented anywhere?

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    The following source puts the setting of the story in Berditchev, and the rabbi being Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. books.google.co.il/… – IsraelReader Jul 15 at 13:21
  • @IsraelReader Post an answer! – Isaac Moses Jul 15 at 13:22
  • I hardly consider it to be an answer. By the same token, it can be added to the question. The OP asked for a documented source, and this hardly fills this requirement. To add to the confusion, I've also remember reading a similar story regarding R' Yonason Eibeschitz or the Noda BeYehuda. – IsraelReader Jul 15 at 13:29
  • Is this on-topic? – DonielF Jul 15 at 14:52
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    @DonielF I can't see why not. It's about a prominent rabbinic authority applying Torah precedent. – Isaac Moses Jul 15 at 14:52
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This sounds very similar to the story with R' Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, but that story is about Tzedakah, not immigration. (Which makes sense, because I don't think there was a restriction against immigrating to Sedom. After all, Lot did it, and was even appointed judge there).


Here's the story (Sippurei Chassidim link. I copied it from here)

When Reb Levi Yitzchak accepted the appointment of Rav of Berditchev, he stipulated that the local lay leaders were not to burden him with attendance at communal meetings, unless some new custom was to be ordained.

In due course they called a meeting which was to introduce a new regulation: That paupers would be forbidden henceforth to knock on the doors of householders; instead, they would be given a monthly grant from the community chest. In anticipation of the new statute, they invited Reb Levi Yitzchak and, at the meeting, proceeded to explain their proposition.

Reb Levi Yitzchak protested: "My brothers! Did we not agree that I was not to be bothered with discussions over old regulations?"

"Begging your pardon, rabbi, this is a new piece of legislation!'

Reb Levi Yitzchak was not convinced: "There is nothing novel in your proposal. In fact it has an ancient history, dating all the way back to Sodom and Amora. They too had a statute forbidding people to give alms to the needy... "

The proposal was removed from the agenda there and then.

  • The immigration aspect most likely comes from the fact that the people from Sodom were known to not welcome new comers to the city, as is mentioned by Rashi regarding Lot standing near the entrance to the city. – ezra Jul 16 at 3:57
  • Rav Moshe Feinstein actually begins the issue of Jewish Federations on this note, "let's assume it's a centralized tzedaka fund to which the poor can go; okay that's fine, but that doesn't preclude them from also approaching individuals." (He then acknowledges that today's federations often fund things we're not crazy about, but concludes as a matter of practicality that we have to support Federations regardless.) – Shalom Jul 16 at 8:54

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