Librarian as Witness - Six, or Pirke Avot and the FBI
In 1925, three years after the Jewish Institute of Religion opened its doors, it published an edition of Pirke Avot with a translation and commentary by R. Travers Herford (1860-1950), a British scholar of rabbinic Judaism who was also a Unitarian minister. The book, part of a perhaps over-ambitious publishing project Rabbi Stephen Wise envisioned for his institution, did achieve some success, being reprinted in 1930 and 1945 by the J.I.R., and later by Schocken in 1961 and 1975.
The Reverend Herford was in the process of preparing revisions during the 1940s, corresponding regularly with the J.I.R.'s Librarian, Rabbi I. Edward Kiev (1905-1975). At one point, Rabbi Kiev told me, the mail was simply not reliable enough and certainly not speedy enough to get the job done in a timely manner. So Herford would send his revisions, additions, and comments in terse, cryptic telegrams, and where necessary, Rabbi Kiev would sent a wire back.
One day in 1944, Rabbi Kiev related to me, an agent of the F.B.I. showed up at the J.I.R. and asked to speak with Rabbi Wise. He said there was evidence that the J.I.R. was being used as a relay station for spies exchanging "information," and the agent placed a pile of copies of the intercepted messages on Rabbi Wise's desk.
Rabbi Wise roared with laughter and tried to explain to the non-plussed agent that this was not sensitive information being exchanged by spies, but editorial comments on a text being prepared for publication, the text being "aphorisms of rabbis of yore, some of whom may have known Jesus."
Rabbi Kiev then produced a bundle of yellowing and crumbling telegrams tied with a bit of string.
After he died and I was cleaning up the office we shared, I looked for these telegrams but never found them.