Letter & Spirit: Separating Religion and State
In this week’s edition of Letter and Spirit, we present a letter from the Rebbe on the question of government involvement in religious practices – which the Rebbe says must resolutely be rejected as an interference with religious liberty. The letter was written in English through the Rebbe’s trusted secretary Rabbi Nissan Mindel, and was made available by the latter’s son-in-law, Rabbi Sholom Ber Shapiro.
The letter is in reference to a proposed Bill in the N.Y. State Legislature in 1965, which caused great debate at the time, in which it would be mandatory to use a certain restraining pen in the preparation of the animal for shechita. The Rebbe makes the point, very emphatically, that the relevant thing here is not whether this particular practice is permitted or prohibited by halachah – but rather, whether the government has the right to interfere at all in matters of religious practice.
This weekly feature is made possible by a collaboration between CrownHeights.info and Nissan Mindel Publications. Once a week we publish a unique letter of the Rebbe that was written originally in the English language, as dictated by the Rebbe to Rabbi Mindel.
By the Grace of G-d
21st of Sivan, 5725
New York City
Thank you very much for your letter with the enclosures, which are returned herewith.
I delayed my acknowledgement pending the receipt of further information on developments. In the meantime, I received an authoritative book written by one of the leading authorities in the field of shechita, wherein he rules that the proposed pen is absolutely contradictory to the Jewish Law.
Actually, as I pointed out in my previous letter to you, the issue is not whether the proposed legislation affecting shechita is or is not, compatible with the Jewish Law and this is not the point I wished to make. The essential issue is that any legislation relating to religious practice must resolutely be rejected as an interference with religious liberty. Thus, even if the proposed legislation would be quite compatible with Jewish Law, it would also be necessary to decry most strongly any attempt to deliberate on a matter affecting Jewish religious practices. It so happens, however, that the proposed legislation is quite incompatible with Jewish Law, according to authoritative opinion and this makes it even more imperative that any deliberation of it be thrown out from any committee or legislative body.
I am aware that there might be some Rabbinical authorities who consider the proposed pen not compatible with Jewish Law. As you undoubtedly know, a difference of legal opinion is nothing unusual, either in Jewish Law or in any jurisprudence. By mentioning the above ruling which prohibits the use of the proposed pen, there is no reflection on the authorities that may be inclined to permit its use. However, as already mentioned, this is not the issue, and I mention this only to emphasize once again the great need and urgency to take speedy and effective action to rule out of order the proposed legislation affecting shechita.
The above letter is from a forthcoming volume of The Letter and the Spirit Series, two volumes of which have been published to date, with volume three coming out shortly, IYH. The letters are from the archives of Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mindel, a personal secretary to the Previous Rebbe and The Rebbe, whose responsibilities included the Rebbe’s correspondence in English.
We thank Rabbi Sholom Ber Shapiro, director of Nissan Mindel Publications and the one entrusted by Rabbi Mindel, his father-in-law, with his archives, for making these letters available to the wider public. May the merit of the many stand him in good stead.