Weekly Letter: Chabad and Politics

This week, we present a letter from the Rebbe to a well-known public figure regarding Chabad efforts in the political sphere (in Washington D.C.), with basic guidelines about public relations, intervention/shtadlonus and dealing with people of influence. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.

This topic dates back to the encounter of Yaakov and Eisav, in this week’s parsha – which all future shtadlanim would traditionally study before going on their mission on behalf of their fellow Jews.

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                                                                                                                              By the Grace of G-d

3rd of Sivan, 5744

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Prof.

Cambridge, Mass. 02138

Greeting and Blessing:

I received your letter. Frankly I was somewhat disappointed not to find in it an answer to my simple and straightforward question as to the unusual, to say the least, procedure of sending copies of your previous letter to me without waiting for my reply. However, for understandable reasons, I will not press this point.

To turn to the subject matter of your letter, I assume you are aware of the background of the Reception in Washington. But I will briefly recount the circumstances in order to put it in its proper context.

The person whose participation In the Reception you found so objectionable was not an honoree, but he came to salute and pay tribute to a Jew and to a Jewish movement. The occasion was not just a birthday party, but an important event in behalf of an important cause of both public (national) interest as well as of Jewish interest.

For a number of years now, Lubavitch has been concerned about the state of education for the nation’s public schools, in view of the structure of the American family and society (lack of adequate parental guidance, the influence of a permissive society, etc.). Consequently we have been trying to promote the concept that the ultimate purpose of education, especially of the young, is not the imparting and acquisition of knowledge per se, however important this is, but primarily to develop the character of the youngsters to be mentchen, decent human beings. In other words- we are aiming to induce the upgrading of the ethical and moral foundations of education. This has become even more important in recent years in view of the rise of juvenile delinquency and violence, as has been borne out also by the recently published report on Public Education that came out of Washington, D. C. :

Thus, ‚while being active in Jewish education nation-wide and world-wide, Lubavitch has been actively concerned also in general education ,all the more so since many thousands of Jewish boys and girls receive their  education in the public schools, in a strictly G-dless atmosphere. Indeed, the Torah requires every Jew to promote the time-honored Divinely-given moral principles in the society in which he lives.

Through considerable efforts, mostly through personal contacts, we have with G-d’ s help, succeeded in reaching an important milestone, namely,  in that both houses of Congress have in recent years passed a joint resolution calling upon the President of the United States to designate an “Education Day, USA” with an appropriate proclamation calling upon the American people to become more closely aware of the importance of education and of its role in the national interest.  In recognition of the Lubavitch movement’s contribution to this cause, the annual “Education Day” has been proclaimed in conjunction   with the birthday of the head of the movement.

The most recent such resolution and proclamation evinced such interest among the members of both houses that each and all of them signed a special scroll, bearing the text of the Resolution. I wonder how many other resolutions of the U.S. Congress had received such enthusiastic unanimous personal support of each and all Senators and Representatives.

As was to be expected, some Senators and Representatives signed the scroll in their respective offices; many others gathered for the ceremony at a special reception in the Capital. Some, indeed, wished to associate themselves more articulately, through paying a personal tribute to the cause and to its initiators. Among the latter was the Senator whose participation you found objectionable.

More has to be said on the subject matter, but in order not to detour from the immediate issue, I will say it, in part, in a P.S.

To conclude on a timely topic in connection with the approaching Festival of Shovuot, the anniversary of Mattan-Torah at Mount Sinai, I extend to you and yours the traditional Chabad blessing on this occasion— “to receive the Torah with joy and inwardness.”

With blessing,

 

P S. I wish to refer to your characterization of the person as described in your letter.

I trust you will agree that in regard to persons of influence, whether in Washington or elsewhere, the first objective should be to persuade and encourage such e person to use his influence in a positive way in behalf of any and all good causes which are important to us. We should welcome every public appearance which lends public support to the cause, especially when there is likelihood that it may be the forerunner of similar pronouncements in the future. A case in point is the public stance of the very person who is the subject of your letter on a matter which is surely close to your heart. I believe it is not the first of its kind, nor I hope, the last.

My experience with such people – though I have never personally met the said person – has convinced me that politicians are generally motivated more by expediency than by conviction. In other words, their public pronouncements on various issues do not stem from categorical principles or religious imperatives. Hence, most of them, if not all, are subject to change in their positions, depending on time, place, and other factors.

I believe, therefore, that the proper approach to such persons by Jewish leaders should not be rigid. As a rule, it does no good to engage in a cold war, which may often turn into a hot war; nor does it serve any useful purpose to brand one as an “enemy” or an “anti-Semite,”   however tempting it is to do so even if that person vehemently denies it. It can only be counter-productive. On the contrary, ways and means should be found to persuade such a person to take a favorable stance, at least publicly. We haven’t too many friends, and attaching labels, etc. will not gain us any.

Instances abound where the approach advocated above produced good results. To cite one well-known case – the leader of the Moral Majority has at times made highly unfavorable pronouncements, especially the one about missionary activities a few weeks ago. Yet the government of Eretz Yisrael made special efforts to gain his support, etc., etc.

There is surely no need to point out to you that responsible Jewish leaders consistently cultivated good public relations, indeed even cordial relations, with Pres. Carter and his predecessors going back to FDR, regardless of their sometimes openly negative feelings towards Jews and Jewish causes.

The wisdom of the said approach is borne out also by the experience in regard to helping Jews behind the Iron Curtain. There are those who claim that anti-Soviet demonstrations and similar actions will induce the Kremlin to change its policy. Others, myself included, are convinced that “quiet diplomacy” has been effective, and certainly not counterproductive. I urged and pleaded – behind the scenes, of course – for such an approach by Jewish leaders. Unfortunately, my pleadings were unheeded.

This is one of the reasons why I write in reply to your correspondence this P.S., which has nothing to do with the person about whom you wrote – in hope that you may use your influence with your friends who are active in Jewish concerns, in the direction indicated above.

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The above letter is from Volume II of The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications (NMP).

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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