The Rebbe’s Patience with a Demanding Professor

By Staff

An exchange of letters between the Rebbe and Prof. Jakob J. Petuchowski, a Reform Rabbi and later professor at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, was recently uncovered.

Professor Petuchowski was raised frum in Germany and it seems even attended frum yeshivos as a teen, but while he claimed to continue to keep mitzvos, he unfortunately somehow ended working for the Reform movement in the US and Eretz Yisroel. In Cincinnati, he came in contact with Chabad and thus began corresponding with the Rebbe. 

In one of his first letters to the Rebbe from 20 Sivan 5734/1974 (to which the Rebbe’s letter below is a response to), he demanded that the Rebbe tell him immediately that he doesn’t believe that the school children in Maalot were killed because they lacked kosher mezuzos, since he had heard this being said in the Rebbe’s name. He also expressed disappointment for not receiving a reply as fast as he would have expected. 

The Rebbe’s mazkirus replied that the Rebbe had in fact responded earlier and the letter must have been lost and they attached a copy of the original letter. In the Rebbe’s response (printed below), the Rebbe included a copy of the sicha about the protective nature of mezuzos, and that reading the original will certainly clarify the matter. The Rebbe also utilized the opportunity to ask the professor why he doesn’t do more to stem the tide of assimilation in his circles. 

In this letter and in other letters he wrote to the Rebbe, the professor often wrote aggressively and without the appropriate derech eretz. Yet, the Rebbe, with endless ahavas yisroel, took the time to respond respectfully. A powerful lesson for all of us.

Submitted by Rabbi Nochum S. Zajac of Crown Heights – וזכות הרבים תלוי בו

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  1. There is so much to learn from how the Rebbe responds to people

    I’m wondering if the Rebbe would approve of the title of this piece, how he is reffered to as a demanding professor

    It’s definitely not a compliment

    I’ve never seen the Rebbe speak this way about a person. It seems finger pointing and divisive.

    Is it possible to leave out the word demanding?

    (It would be interesting if this sort of thing has come up before and if there are any horaos on this type of thing- bringing out the negative in a person to catch ppls attention)

    1. A person with a frum upbringing who publicly joins reform, ask your Rav, but I believe according to Halacha one need not restrain oneself from talking negatively about such a person particularly when there is a תועלת, as there is in this case where we learn how the Rebbe responded to such a person. I believe the place we should work on in this area is to restrain ourselves from speaking negatively from our community who we are not fond of or irritated by, which can be far more difficult.

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