Responsa in Judaism (in Hebrew, She’elot U’teshuvot, usually shortened to Shu”t ) has a long history and rich literature, with numerous responsa extant from the period of the early Geonim and on. By the era of the Rishonim, we find full works of responsa in existence, containing the responsa of a specific author. These works would generally contain the question and the details of the person posing the query, followed by a response by the author. Often these responsa were grouped by subject, and by the time printing became prevalent in the Jewish world, many such works were in existence and were published in quick succession.
Being that the response was generally sent out by the author to the recipient, the question remains how these collection of responsa existed in one group, being that each of the responsa was sent out to the numerous people asking the questions. With some books of responsa, we have records of an attempt to collect letters of the author from the various recipients after the author’s passing.
A recent example would be the last volumes of the Igrot Moshe, where the editor (Rabbi Tendler) writes that some of the responsa were obtained from the recipients, where Rav Moshe’s copies were no longer extant. In other examples, we have records of the authors themselves writing a second copy of every response they sent out.
The Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles, 1530-1572) writes in one of his responsa, “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 G-d.”
The Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch also had a habit of preserving a copy of every responsa he sent out; nine such volumes in his handwriting are known to exist today – seven in the Library in Moscow and two in the Chabad Library in New York. The Rivash, R. Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet (or Barfat) (1326–1408), was also known to keep a duplicate of every responsa he sent out, as he notes several times in his responsa.
Recently I was excited to be able to acquire a handwritten manuscript of one such volume, namely R. Shlomo Kluger’s own autograph copies of his responsa. Rabbi Shlomo Kluger (1786-1869) was born in Komarow, Russian Poland. He was the rabbi and dayan in several communities, but for more than 50 years he was the rabbi of Brody. He was a prolific writer, writing more than 160 books, many of which were printed. It is fascinating to compare the responsa here to the versions published; often times, the text is not nearly identical, as the author often revised the text, eliminated personal matters and added lavish praises to corresponding rabbis not necessarily extant in his own copies.