Chief Rabbi’s Historic Letter In New Hands

Chief Rabbi’s Historic Letter In New Hands

Sandee is the arts and culture editor at the Jewish Week.

As reported last week, a 1954 handwritten letter from Chief Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog to the author of the book “Judaism in Islam” was offered at auction by Kestenbaum & Company. A private collector in Los Angeles, Alan Stern, bought the letter for $9000.

For 25 years, Stern, a businessman, has been a collector of Judaica, focusing on silver ritual objects, until about five years ago when he turned his attention to letters.

What interested Stern in the unpublished Herzog letter, which expresses the hope that the close connection between Judaism and Islam might help the cause of “peace between Ishmael and Israel,” was its clear call for a religious dimension to the peace process.

“We need to involve the religious leadership on both sides to be able to sit down and to realize that there is a lot of similarity – more areas of agreement than disagreement,” he says.

In this letter, Rabbi Herzog is congratulating scholar Abraham Isaac Katsh on the publication of his “excellent” book.

“I try to buy historically significant letters,” Stern says, noting that he’s particularly interested in how Jewish leaders approach important issues. “Letters give you a truthful view, as to a person’s relationships, world view and leadership style.”

Stern plans to beautifully frame the letter, and include a copy of the second side on the back. A founding partner of Specialty Commodities, an international importing and distribution company, Stern is active in Jewish affairs in L.A. and serves as president of his orthodox synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim of Hancock Park. He describes his extensive Judaica collection as eclectic.

“Judaica collection is very emotional for Jewish people,” he says. “So much of our heritage was destroyed and stolen.” He adds, “You can get a glimpse through Judaica of how Jews lived in different places, the huge differences in the ways we dress, talk, daven, conduct our Judaism.”

Stern’s collection also includes a letter from the Kotzker rebbe to a good friend, and the first-known letter written by the Lubavitcher rebbe, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to his rebbe.

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