In this week’s edition of Letter and Spirit, we present a letter from the Rebbe in which he discusses the “why not” of interfaith dialogue. 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.
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
New York, N.Y.
Greeting and Blessing:
I am in receipt of your letter.
I wonder if your letter was written before, or after, the news of the Easter homily emanating from Rome reached here, followed by further news in the same vein.
You make reference to “artificial mechitza,” implying that it would be brought about were interfaith dialogue to be discouraged by Jews. But, as I indicated in my letter, our denial of inter religious dialogue is not a matter of creating an “artificial” mechitza, but one of the fundamental precepts of authentic Judaism. For Judaism has not made it a doctrine to proselytize. On the contrary, Jewish Law places difficulties in the path of would be proselytes, and accepts them only most reluctantly. At the same time, however, Jews have never isolated themselves from the rest of the world, and have maintained communication with the outside world in a variety of spheres, other than religious.
You assert that the cutting off of inter faith dialogue would be fatal to Judaism. I do not know on what basis you, of all people, make such an amazing statement. Certainly historically this has not been true. To be sure, there have been groups, sects and movements who sought to syncretize Judaism with other beliefs, religions or philosophies, beginning with the Calf worshippers soon after Mattan Torah, and their heirs, the Baal worshippers, the Sadducees, Karaites, etc. But the fate of all these dissidents was sealed from the start: Either they returned to the fold, or they were completely severed from the Jewish people. Suffice it to mention that Christianity itself began as a dissident Jewish sect, but in time completely cut itself off from the Jewish people, and turned against it with growing animosity, to the extent of introducing the Inquisition, etc. Surely no further elaboration is necessary.
If there could have been any doubt as to the utility or futility of religious dialogue, at any time in the early history of our people, it should certainly be clear now, in the perspective, of our long and eventful history, that any benefit claimed for inter faith dialogue is only illusory, while the harm of it is real and devastating.
The above letter is from Volume II of The Letter and the Spirit by Nissan Mindel Publications. 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.