(I could use some help with tagging.)

There are many seforim out there that are the compiled letters or teshuvos of this or that Rabbi. Those that come to mind are "Igros Moshe", from R' Moshe Feinstein, and "Igros Kodesh" from the Lubavitcher Rebbeim.

My question is, since all of those letters are responses to people, they were presumably mailed out to their intended recipients. So where did/do the compilers get them? Do they go around to all the people who have letters and ask them for copies? Were the originals typed in triplicate?

I know that Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, who was one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's secretaries (shamoshim), had a collection of (English) letters that (I assume) he typed out for the Rebbe. (Edit - After consulting with the current owner of those letters, I was told that @msh210 was correct. Rabbi Dr. Mindel would take dictation in shorthand and then type up the letters in duplicate.)

Did these Rabbis keep personal copies of all their responses?

So many great answers so I accepted the one that helped me the most. Upvoted all of them, though.

  • 3
    +1. Re Rabbi Mindel, why do you think the Rebbe waited while he typed at all? I'd assume that, like most secretaries, he took shorthand dictation and typed on his own time. That's just a guess, though.
    – msh210
    Dec 23, 2011 at 6:55
  • 1
    @msh210. You're probably right. I did not think of that. Now that you mention it, I seem to remember it being mentioned when I discussed it with the current possessor if those letters. Now that I happen to be in his neck of the continent for Shabbos, I'll try to ask him.
    – HodofHod
    Dec 23, 2011 at 7:05
  • 1
    @ShmuelBrill. Ok, so I spoke to him just now, he said that indeed Rabbi Dr. Mindel took dictation in shorthand and then typed it up in duplicate. Apparently though, he did not use carbon paper, but rather some other method of duplication.
    – HodofHod
    Dec 30, 2011 at 5:07
  • R' Moshe Feinstein (as well as the Rivevos Efrayim) wrote his letters twice and kept a copy Feb 13, 2013 at 6:08

5 Answers 5


My understanding (no source) is that, yes, twentieth-century rabbis kept copies. It wasn't necessary to type twice: they used carbon paper. I don't know about older rabbis, though.

Update: However, see the comments on this answer.

  • 1
    Can you use carbon paper with a typewriter?
    – HodofHod
    Dec 23, 2011 at 7:01
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    @HodofHod, certainly.
    – msh210
    Dec 23, 2011 at 7:07
  • 4
    @HodofHod: Wow, are you making me feel old. Yes, carbon paper was designed for use with typewriters. You'd take two or more sheets of regular paper. You'd put a piece of carbon paper infront of all but the first sheet of paper (interleaving the carbon paper and the regular paper). Then insert the whole thing into the typewriter. There was also a "platen" adjustment on the typewriter to enable it to work with the very thick bundle of paper. Then type your letter as normal. Voila! "Carbon copies" of your original (the first sheet) would be on the other sheets.
    – Larry K
    Dec 26, 2011 at 4:38
  • 2
    R' Moshe Feinstein (as well as the Rivevos Efrayim) wrote his letters twice and kept a copy. Feb 13, 2013 at 5:58
  • 1
    @LarryK that's why they're carbon copies. cough cough Feb 13, 2013 at 23:20

I think that by the Lubavitcher Rebbe the secretaries used to make a rough draft, send it in to the Rebbe for proofreading, get the Rebbe to write notes on it, retype the letter and send it. Therefore, the secretaries had the original copy in manuscript.

Later, when the Rebbe stopped writing full letters, He used to respond in Ksav Yad on the margins of the letters sent it. I think the secretaries kept the original ksav yad, and sent the retyped response.

Some of the older Igros (from the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbes) are (AFAIK) from people (they ask for people with letters to send them to Kehos).


In the days before copy machines and email it was certainly a common process among many letter writers Jewish and non-Jewish alike to write out copies of their own letters that they were sending. Not everybody did it but it was quite common. You can therefore find collections of letters sent by many people famous and not famous in historical collections. The letters of George Washington or John Adams for example. It should not be surprising that many Rabbeim kept copies of there own letters, particularly significant letters such as responsa.

  • 2
    It makes sense. What if someone sends you another letter referencing your response, and you don't remember what exactly you said? Dec 24, 2011 at 7:56

Rabbi Moshe Isserles (the Rama) in Responsa 81 attaches a footnote to the end of his responsa:

אהובי לאחר שתקרא כתבי חזור לשלתו אלי כי כן מנהגי ליתן להעתיק כל הדברים הנוגעים בדין מן הדינים כדי שיהא שמור אצלי לעת זקנתי אשר אקוה מהשם ית״ש ש"ש
My friend, after you read my letter please return and send it to me, for it is my custom to give to be copied over all the things which relate to the Law so that it shall be saved by me for my old age which I pray will come with blessing from God. (my loose translation)

I seem to recall a different version of this footnote (maybe at the end of a different responsum) where he explains the reason being that he was rushed to send the answer so he didn't have time to copy it over before sending it. I will keep an eye out for that version.

Note that this responsa dates from the mid 16th century.

It seems the Rama would have all of his responsa copied over before sending them out in order to keep a record. Presumably many of his contemporaries had similar practices.

  • I've heard/seen this by other teshuvas (perhaps one of the Noda B'Yehuda) but I don't remember clearly at the moment. Most Rabbonim long ago would write 2 copies or do like the Rema is doing here in the even that the letter got sent out before making a copy. It would be interesting to know which Rabbonim did it with the intention of printing their work or if they did it simply to have for themselves (or perhaps both.)
    – Yehoshua
    Dec 2, 2012 at 20:21

There's an interview with Rabbi Tendler where he indicates that normally Rabbi Feinstein would write many responsa out, longhand, in both a letter to the questioner, and a gray-speckled-paper notebook for his own copy (and later publication). He was meticulous about his responsa.

It's also not unheard of, after the death of a great rabbi, for editors to ask for copies anyone has of letters they received from this rabbi. I believe this happened with Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner; however in that case you often don't have the complete information of what question was being asked. (Which Rabbi Feinstein, by contrast, takes care to mention.)

  • 1
    The letter of introduction (not the actual introduction but the letter that is reproduced before it, written by the foundation behind its publication) to the 9th volume of Igros Moshe says that some of the letters included were in fact collected from their recipients and not from Rav Moshe's own collection.
    – WAF
    Feb 13, 2012 at 1:35

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