Presidential Archives Releases Fascinating Letters of the Rebbe

Among the archives of Israeli President Yitzchak Navon which were recently uploaded online is a fascinating exchange between the Rebbe and the South African Zionist Federation on the topic of aliya vis a vis helping one’s home community. 

By reporter

A fascinating exchange between the Rebbe and the South African Zionist Federation was recently uncovered, after being published by the archives of Israeli President Yitzchak Navon.

The exchange, which debates the merits of aliya vs. helping one’s home community, was sent by the Federation to President Navon after the back-and-forth between them and the Rebbe. As the primary subject of the discussion was regarding the merits and drawbacks of encouraging aliya, they felt it would be “useful for [him] to have copies of the correspondence.”

The exchange began when two leading figures in the South African Federation wrote to the Rebbe “on a matter of grave communal concern.”

Just before the exchange, which began in November of 1979, Lubavitch of South Africa had embarked on a “major and costly school building project”. The Federation felt that the project did not adhere to a general agreement that existed in the community, which, they wrote, all major organizations subscribed to.

“South African Jewry is a dwindling community, very well serviced by a comprehensive network of day schools, all of which are in a parlous financial state since they are in receipt of no subscriptions from government,” they wrote, asking the Rebbe to contact Lubavitch in Johannesburg to “reconsider the present project.”

The Rebbe responded with a 3-page English letter, taking issue with the entire premise presented in the letter to him. The Rebbe wrote about the state of the South African community and the attitude towards a universal school system, addressing each point in length.

The Federation then responded, raising concern about a paragraph in the Rebbe’s letter that they felt “is opposed to the encouragement of aliyah.”

“Accordingly I would be most grateful if you would clarify what appears to be a somewhat ambiguous assertion. That is, when you state that Jews should reconsider leaving South Africa do you include Israel as a destination in that recommendation?” they wrote.

In response, the Rebbe wrote a 4-page letter, all in English, which discusses aliyah vis a vis helping one’s home community. The letter is a fascinating glimpse at the Rebbe’s views on the subject, expressed in clear English.

Click here to download the full exchange.
Click here to download the Rebbe’s letters.

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