In light of the recent renewed interest in the Rebbe’s campaign for “a moment of silence” in the Public Schools – we share a letter about the subject. The Rebbe had often spoken and written about this vital topic, within the general framework of education – so as to inculcate children with a sense of respect for a Higher Authority thereby cultivating good traits and behavior- and ultimately avoiding delinquency and lawlessness. This is a letter from the early years – 1950’s – when the topic had originally been discussed as “prayer in public school” and then later, more specifically debated as “a non-denominational prayer”. This letter gives us some historical perspective until, in more recent decades – it has come to be known as “a moment of silence.” Regardless of the title given – the underlying idea is the same: children should be trained and become accustomed to show gratitude, give thought to a higher power and to good and positive things and be grateful for their blessings. The letter, written originally in English, is from the archives of the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel.
2nd of Kislev, 5723
New York 32, N.Y.
Thank you for your letter, enclosing page proofs of your forthcoming article. I very much appreciate your thoughtfulness in sending me same.
I hasten to reply not only because of the importance of the subject matter, but also in the hope that my observations relating to your article will be of interest to you, and primarily, I confess, in the hope that this communication may serve an immediate practical purpose. What I mean is that if there is any possibility of introducing some revisions in the article before it appears in the publication, and if you agree with my views, then on the basis of the principle “accept the truth from whatever source,” you will incorporate my suggestion in your article.
Before coming to the point, I want to express my gratification with the general position which you espouse in your article. It is also especially gratifying to note that you have the courage to express your convictions publicly, for, sad to say, there are some who, for one reason or another, consider it expedient to pass over the vital issues of the Regents Prayer and Federal Aid in silence, and still others whose fear of an unpopular course drives them into the opposite course, in disregard of the Shulchan Aruch. (For them, apparently, the fear of Heaven does not match the fear of flesh and blood, though it is no more than the fear of the “sound of a torn leaf.”)
Now to the point. I refer to the second part of your article which deals with denominational religious exercises in the public schools. Here, you state, “the matter becomes a bit more complicated” and you continue to expound the view at some length that the religious Jew should not oppose even such religious practices in the public schools, and that it is as well that the non-Jewish children should be more religious, etc.
My objection is that it is not strategically advisable to introduce this aspect of the general problem into a discussion of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Regents Prayer. The objective is, after all, to bring about a reversal of Supreme Court’s decision on a non-denominational prayer, for which much public opinion must be won. To declare that there should be no opposition even to denominational exercises, and that they should in fact be viewed with favor, would at once alienate many groups which may still be undecided, or open-mined, on the issue of the Regents Prayer, not to mention those who might be persuaded to reconsider their position.
So much for “strategy.” But the essential thing is that all denominational exercises, such as are connected with Xmas celebrations, nativity, etc., are in the view of the Torah Avodo Zoro. Considering the state of the children’s mind in the present generation, on the one hand, and the solemnity and appealing decor with which these exercises are presented, it is certain that many Jewish children will not only be reluctant to forego these displays but would even participate in them. From what I have been told of these exercises it is not merely a case of avizrayhu d’avoda zoro but avodo zoro mamash.
Your suggestion that such exercises might affect those children who are in any case far from religion, but not those who are deeply rooted in the Jewish faith, etc., does not alter the situation, for it is incumbent upon us to safeguard Jewish children against avodo zoro regardless of their background. All the more so, since the non-religious background is not related to avodo zoro, G-d forbid, but to plain ignorance and indifference, and the proportion of such children in the public school, as I pointed out in my letter on this subject, is unfortunately much larger than that of children who come from a religious background.
Thus, according to the Shulchan Aruch it is forbidden for Jewish children not only actually to sing carols but even to participate in them with silent reverence, and the like. Even if such participation were in doubt, it Is a sofek avodo zoro, which is d’orayso and in regard to one of the three transgressions of yehoreg v’al yaavor. It is distressing enough to contemplate how many Jewish children are already unwitting victims of the existing situation, and how many more would join their ranks if such denominational exercises were to receive the official sanction of the government and even Jewish circles.
This is why I fervently hope that if there is any possibility whatever to eliminate the paragraph or section dealing with the said aspect and I would indeed be very happy to be informed that this has been done. I would like to add that I would be prepared to cover all expenses entailed in the resetting, or even the reprinting of the particular form of the Journal, etc., in which case there should be no objection on the part of the Journal, and surely the author should have the final say in such matters.
I realize that it is not a small thing that I am asking, especially as it may be quite a test for a person to change or modify a point of view. But considering that this is a matter that would affect not merely the adult readers of the magazine but also numerous children in the Public Schools, I am confident that you and the editors will prove equal to the challenge.
May G-d grant you success in spreading the light of the Torah and mitzvos to the utmost of your influence, and as Chasidus would have it, with joy and gladness of heart.
With esteem and blessing,
p.s. Enclosed please find a copy of my letter on the Regents Prayer, which apparently was not in your possession at the time when you wrote your article. I trust you will find it of interest.
Because I attach considerable importance to your article, I take the liberty of making several additional unsolicited remarks, confident that you will accept them in the spirit in which they are given. I shall follow the order of your article, the first remark being in the nature of a general observation applicable to other articles and periodicals as well.
a) The name of G-d is sacred even when written in other than the sacred tongue. Since periodicals and the like are not usually kept with particular care, it is the practice, in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch, to spell the Name hyphenated, to avoid desecration.
b) Several times you describe the Jewish organization opposing the Regents Prayer as “large” or “major.” Though they may claim such status and create that impression, I believe that this is exaggerated. It is only because they have almost unlimited financial resources for publicly which enables them to press issues often in conflict with the Torah, while Yeshlvos and other organizations working for the cause of the Torah are necessarily limited to a “still small voice,” that a distorted impression may be created. And as the well known Iggeres haRamban laments, “the more sacred the thing the greater the degree of its ruination.”
c) With reference to the editorial in the magazine which you mention in your article, more significant, unfortunately, is the fact that to-date the catholic hierarchy has not dissociated itself from that outburst. True, another catholic journal did so, but it is by far less influential and represents only the catholic laity. In view of the fact that the Catholic Church is well organized and disciplined, the appearance of that editorial in the first place and the lack of disclaimer afterwards is especially “eloquent.” To be sure, this is nothing new for Jews, for as the Rashbi declared: (insert Hebrew)…. B’yadua sh’Eisav soneh l’Yaakov. Nevertheless, it is shocking to contemplate that even in this democratic and liberal country anti-Jewish feeling is so deep-rooted and undisguised, as evidenced also in the Sunday Blue Laws, etc.
d) In referring to Federal Aid to Parochial schools you fail to mention that the demand for such aid, at least in so far as Jews are concerned, is for aid to the secular departments. Without entering into the question whether Government aid should be given also to religious education, it is logically important to emphasize the fact that the demand is for the secular departments, since it will have the greater sympathy of public opinion, especially as this also corresponds to the actual issue.
e) In mentioning the impact or influence on children with a religious background, minimizing such influence by other religious exercises, surely you will agree we cannot draw a parallel from students on the university level, for children in the public schools are certainly more susceptible.
f) Finally a word about the argument used in some quarters to the effect that the child should be given the freedom to choose and decide in religious matters. I have heard this argument in Russia and its application led to the inevitable conclusion that the teacher must not use religious indoctrination, and since the teacher supplants the parent in education, it led to the further conclusion that parent should not be permitted to “force” their children to attend Talmud Torahs, Yeshivos, etc., which is but a small step to banning religious instruction altogether.
Nevertheless, for strategic purposes it is best to steer clear from any side issues or arguments which might prejudice public opinion towards the main issue and cause.