In preparation for Chanukah, at which time we ready our own personal menorah for the lighting within, we are also eagerly preparing the public menorah lighting on the outside, which the Rebbe has encouraged us to do, in order to maximize the publicizing of the great Chanukah miracle. This week, we present a letter in which the Rebbe gives an answer to those who have reservations about the kindling of the Chanukah menorah in public places. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.
By the Grace of G-d
3rd of Sivan, 5738
New York, N.Y.
Greeting and Blessing:
This is to confirm receipt of your letter and I regret the unavoidable delay in replying to it more promptly. In it you express your reservations about the kindling of the Chanukiot in public places on the ground of (a) the principle of the separation of church and state (b) it being ”counterproductive.”
Had I received your letter years ago, when the practice started, I would have had a more difficult task defending it, for the simple reason that the expected positive results were then a matter of conjecture. But now, after the practice and the results have been observed for a number of years, my task is an easy one, since the general acclaim and beneficial results have far exceeded our expectations. The fact is that countless Jews in all parts of the country have been impressed and inspired by the spirit of Chanukah which had been brought to them – to many for the first time. Indeed, the eternal and always timely message of Chanukah – the victory of the outnumbered forces of light over the overwhelming forces of darkness that attempted to make Jews forget G-d’s Torah and mitzvos (as we say in the prayer of “ V’Al Hanissim”) – struck a responsive chord in the hearts of many Jews and strengthened their sense of identity with the Maccabbees of all ages.
This year, too, now that some six months have elapsed since Chanukah and reports have come in from various places where Chanukah Lamps were kindled publicly, the results have been most gratifying in terms of spreading the light of the Torah and mitzvos, and reaching out to Jews who could not otherwise have been reached, either because some of them are unaffiliated with any synagogue or, though loosely affiliated, always thought that religious practices belong within the confines of a synagogue and do not relate to the personal everyday life of the individual. It was precisely through kindling the Chanukah Lamp in public places, during “ordinary” weekdays, with dignity and pride, that it was brought home to them that Judaism is practiced daily, and that no Jew should feel abashed about it.
With regard to the “Constitutional” question, I can most assuredly allay your apprehensions on this score. I am fully certain that none of all those who participated or witnessed the kindling of a Chanukah Lamp in a public place (and in all cases permission was readily granted by the authorities) felt that his or her loyalty to the Constitution of the U.S.A. had been weakened or compromised thereby. Indeed, many expressed surprise that this practice has not been inaugurated years earlier, seeing that the U.S. Congress opens with a religious invocation by a representative of one of the major religions in this country; and, surely, the U.S. Congress, comprising each and every State of the Union, is the place where the Constitution of the USA should be most rigidly upheld. There is surely no need to belabor this point.
As for you stating that some Jews did object to the ceremony on Constitutional grounds, to my knowledge these were exceptional and isolated instances. Moreover, I dare say that (entre nous) the objectors, though ostensibly citing the Constitution, were motivated by other sentiments, a plausible assumption, since they are identified with organizations that thwart every effort to get State aid for Hebrew Day Schools and Yeshivos to alleviate their burden of the secular department and other “non-religious” needs. Be it noted that the money that would have been received in such aid carried the motto “In G-d We Trust!” it is lamentable that as a result of this attitude thousands of Jewish children have been deprived of their right to a Jewish education. It is not surprising therefore to see such an appalling rate of intermarriage, nor is it surprising, however sad and deplorable, that the vast majority of intermarriage take place among the ranks of young people who have been deprived of Jewish education, for one reason or another.
In view of your expressed concern for the preservation of Judaism in this country and for the protection of our children against proselytizing etc., I am encouraged to take advantage of this unexpected exchange of correspondence between us to express my ardent hope that you will use your influence to put an end to the destructive fight against State aid to parochial schools – at any rate insofar as the secular department is concerned, so as to enable Jewish Day Schools and Yeshivos to open their doors to the maximum number of students, starting with the next school year and thereafter. For, only an adequate Jewish education can preserve our young generation and future generations from alienation, intermarriage and complete loss, G-d forbid.
I hope and pray that everyone who has a voice and influence in Jewish community affairs and is concerned for the preservation of Jews and Judaism in this country no less than for the preservation of the American way, will indeed act in the spirit of the basic principle of “this nation under G-d, and government of the people, by the people and for the people.” Including also the Jewish people, and do everything possible for the good of every Jewish child, that he and she remain Jewish, marry a Jew and live Jewishly; and of course a good Jew is also a good American.
With prayerful wishes for an inspiring Yom Tov of Mattan Torah and the traditional blessing to receive the Torah with joy and inwardness.