The Americans talked about Jewish refuseniks unable to leave the Soviet Union. The Soviets countered with the plight of the homeless in America. The Americans pleaded the cases of Soviet political prisoners. The Soviets accused the United States of meting out excessively severe punishments to "peace demonstrators."

So it went during an unprecedented 13 hours of discussions about human rights between U.S. and Soviet officials in the shadows of this week's Reagan-Gorbachev summit.

By the time the Soviets flew home, the Americans were not sure that they had achieved anything concrete. But they had succeeded in giving the Kremlin food for thought.

"What we are really talking about here is a process," said Assistant Secretary of State Richard Schifter, who headed the U.S. team at a U.S.-Soviet working group on human rights during the summit.

"You speak for the record, hoping that Soviet officials will take note of what you say and relay it back to someone who can make a decision," he said. "What counts is what happens between summits."

The charges and countercharges in the human-rights working group reflected the new approach by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev toward one of the thorniest issues in U.S.-Soviet relations.

Since coming to power in March 1985, Gorbachev has shown that he is prepared to discuss subjects previously regarded as taboo by the Kremlin. But he has shown extreme sensitivity to what he apparently views as attempts to push the Soviet Union around and has left westerners wondering about his long-term intentions.

Leading human-rights activists, whose expectations had been raised by Gorbachev's glasnost campaign, expressed disappointment at the lack of significant summit progress on such issues as civil liberties in the Soviet Union and Jewish emigration.

While conceding that Gorbachev represents a new type of Kremlin leader, they insist that his record on dealing with human-rights violations is mixed.

"His tone of voice and his approach seemed so hostile," said Random House Chairman Robert Bernstein, who questioned Gorbachev about Soviet political prisoners Wednesday during a Soviet Embassy session with U.S. publishers.

Bernstein was rewarded with an emotional, 10-minute response, during which Gorbachev insisted that the Soviet people would not tolerate "for a single day a leader who allows anyone to trample on the dignity of our country."

Bernstein, chairman of the Helsinki Watch human-rights committee, said he did not want to give the impression that nothing has changed in the Soviet approach to human rights.

"I think there is a big difference," he said, noting that Soviet dissident physicist Andrei "Sakharov is back in Moscow. {Jewish dissident Anatoly} Shcharansky is out.

"I think they started off in a wonderful way . . . . I just think it was unfortunate that, in coming to the U.S., he did not give us a better idea of what his views on human rights are," he said of Gorbachev.

While Gorbachev was meeting with U.S. critics here, Soviet KGB agents were reportedly preventing Jewish dissidents and human-rights activists from holding public demonstrations in Moscow, in some cases roughing them up. An unofficial human-rights conference had to be moved to a private apartment after authorities declared that a hall booked for the meeting in Moscow was in need of "disinfection."

"We have to evaluate him {Gorbachev} from an objective point of view," said Jerry Strober, spokesman for the U.S. conference on Soviet Jewry.

"Under the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev," Strober said, "51,372 Jews were given permission to emigrate in 1979. But under Gorbachev in 1986, the figure was 914 and, in the first 11 months of this year, 7,300. This is an improvement but still a far cry from the benchmark year of 1979."

Schifter said the Soviets indicated in private discussions that they are prepared to relax emigration procedures somewhat by no longer insisting on the automatic right of parents to veto departure of their adult children.

The Soviets also hinted that they might relax a recently introduced requirement that an emigrant must have an immediate family member abroad.

While Jewish emigration remains well below the level in the Brezhnev years, the Kremlin has allowed larger numbers of other minorities to leave. According to the State Department, 2,000 ethnic Germans and 1,000 Armenians have left the Soviet Union this year.

This week marked the first time that a separate working group has been charged with discussing human rights at a U.S.-Soviet summit. At previous summits, human-rights problems were dealt with by working groups discussing a wide range of "bilateral issues."

Vice President Bush told reporters yesterday that Gorbachev appeared to be "more steady" now in discussing human rights. Bush recalled "the very animated and almost angry response" that he received when he addressed the issue to the Soviet leader on his first day in office.

"I can't tell you I've seen appreciable progress there . . . . We're a long way from hammering out the needed understanding on that one," Bush said. "{But} I think that the fact that it keeps getting raised is helpful because I really believe that he has a more clear understanding of America's -- not the government, not our administration -- but this country's commitment to human rights."

U.S. officials said that last Monday, when Gorbachev arrived here, the Soviets presented them a list of between 50 and 60 prominent Jewish refuseniks recently allowed to emigrate. All but five of the outstanding divided-spouse cases were also settled shortly before the summit.

Schifter said that, while the Soviets have made progress on emigration, prospects for extension of civil liberties in the Soviet Union appear "less encouraging" than they did last summer.

He noted that release of political prisoners has halted and that Soviet security authorities have taken measures designed to prevent demonstrations and other independent political activity.