Weekly Letter: An Illegitimate Child?

This week, we present a letter from the Rebbe in response to someone who questioned the seeming cruelty of the Torah laws pertaining to illegitimate children. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s personal trusted secretary, Rabbi Nissan Mindel.

The Rebbe responds by first and foremost establishing the premise that Torah and its mitzvos in no way contradict the spirit of justice, pleasantness and peace – which are the essence of our Torah.

As is the case with the many letters of the Rebbe which deal with delicate and not easily understood matters, the points which the Rebbe makes in this letter are lucid, broad and comprehensive and on the mark.


                                                                                                               By the Grace of G-d

5th of Teves, 5732

Brooklyn, N.Y.


L.A., California 90007

Greeting and Blessing:

After not hearing from you for some time, I was pleased to receive your letter, especially to read your opening statement that you “support every Halacha principle.”

In the light of the above, I was pleased to read on in your letter that something must be done “to save innocent children” from being thrust into a special Jewish caste in connection with the controversy about illegitimate Jewish children.

The reason why I was so amazed is that you surely know the verse in our Torah that “Parents should not die because of the children, nor should children die because of the parents” (Deut. 24:16).  To this should be added also the well known verse, “You shall love your fellow like yourself” (Lev. 19:18), and that the ways of the Torah are ways of pleasantness and peace.

Furthermore, the Torah is also called Toras-Emes, the Law of Truth, which means that there could not be a contradiction in terms.  Nor is this a matter of conjecture or allusion, for I have quoted well known and clear verses of the written Torah, which does not permit of any side-interpretations etc.  To understand why the law regarding illegitimate children is not in contradiction with the spirit of justice, pleasantness and peace, which are the essence of our Torah, let me cite the following illustration:

Suppose at the time of conception, the parents were in a state of intoxication, or under the influence of drugs, or were themselves afflicted by some hereditary disease.  In such a case medical science has declared that the experience has shown that the embryo and the infants will be affected physically or mentally or both.  It is clear that here is a case where the cause of the child’s affliction is entirely traced to the parents, for the child itself is the innocent sufferer.  But, if this actually comes to pass, the children so born must receive special care and attention, inasmuch as they are born with physical or mental disorders through the fault of the parents.

Suppose further that someone would start a campaign claiming that inasmuch as the children are entirely innocent in this case, they should not be restricted in any way, and should be allowed to grow up and conduct themselves like any other normal children.  Clearly this would not be good, not only for the environment, but would be injurious also to the children themselves.

I do not think anyone would care to challenge medical science today, even though it is relatively young in development, and has undergone various changes in the past.  Surely one should not be presumptuous to challenge the science of the Torah which came down to us about 3500 years ago, and despite the vicissitudes of time and place, has remained steadfast and unchangeable, because Divine Truth is eternal.

Returning now to the question of the status of the illegitimate children as determined by the Torah, could the argument about the innocence of the children serve as any criteria in their special status?  Obviously, it has nothing to do with it, but with the fact that G-d, “The Healer of all flesh who works wondrously” has given definite instructions as to how these children should be treated, which can only be for their benefit as well as for the benefit of all, and any attempt to interfere with this would not only not be helpful to the children, but rather harmful.

Although much more could be said on the subject, I trust the above will suffice for you.  I will only emphasize again that there can be no contradiction between the fact that the Torah is a Toras-Chesed, the law of loving kindness, and that G-d is merciful and gracious, with a verse we find in the Torah itself, “I have seen the tears of those who have been wronged” (Koheles 4:1), which, as our Sages comment, refers to the plight of illegitimate children.  For, needless to say, it is a very great pity for such children, as also emphasized in the illustration cited above, and it is truly heartbreaking that because the parents could not control themselves at a certain moment and let their passions hold sway over them, they have ruined a certain part of their off springs.

Now that we are coming from the days of Chanukah, it will be well to remember that as in the case of all the Mitzvot which are highly symbolic and contain many insights, instructions and ethical teachings, this is the same also in regard to the Mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles.  One of the significant lessons of the Chanukah lights, symbolizing Ner Mitzvo V’Torah Or, the light of the Torah and Mitzvot, is that a Jew should not be discouraged when the sun sets down and it gets dark outside, for that is precisely the time when he should light the Chanukah candles to spread the light of the Torah and Mitzvot. Moreover, he should not hide it within his own home, nor be afraid what the neighbors might say, but, on the contrary, the original law of the Chanukah lights requires that they be kindled at the entrance of his home outside.  Furthermore, he should never rest content with his accomplishments today, but must increase the light the next day and again the next, and so forth.

May G-d grant that you should utilize your fullest influence to spread the light of the Torah, Toras –Emes (and truth allows no compromise), which is also Toras-Chesed as mentioned above.

With blessings,

P.S. I must also express my surprise at your writing that “history shows that we are capable of creative advances” from which you deduce that the Halacha could be changed, etc.  I am surprised that you should have such a wrong concept about so-called laws introduced by the Rabbis of old, such as Prusbul, etc.  For that matter one need not go further than the law that while the Shabbos observance is one of the Ten Commandments, yet in a case of life-saving, the laws of Shabbos observance are set aside.  But, of course, this is neither a contradiction, nor opening the Halacha to changes at will, or so-called “creative advances.”  For the law that Pikuach Nefesh overrides Shabbos is, as the Halacha rules, itself based on the verse in the Torah, and it is the same Torah which says, “Remember the Shabbos day to keep it holy” that has also ruled that to save a life, the Shabbos should be pushed aside (which is not in the case of idolatry, where a Jew is not permitted to save his life through idolatry, and certain other situations where a Jew is expected to suffer a martyred death rather than break the law).  In other words, these are not arbitrary rules, but definite, and clear laws given by G-d, which are in no way contradictory, as can also be seen from the fact that while on Shabbos it is a Mitzvo to eat and drink, but when Shabbos occurs on Yom Kippur, the Halacha requires to fast that day even though it is Shabbos.


The above letter is from the recently-published Volume IV of The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP), which is available for purchase on Amazon.

These letters were written originally in English and were prepared for publication by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, whose responsibility it was the Rebbe’s correspondence in English and several other languages.

We thank Rabbi Shalom Ber Schapiro, who was entrusted by his father-in-law Rabbi Mindel with his archives and who is Director of the Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP), for making the Rebbe’s letters available to the wider public. May the merit of the many stand him in good stead.

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