A Matter of Life and Death
February 15, 2017
Beis Moshiach in #1057, Chabad History, Jewish Refugee Crisis

Frierdiker Rebbe: By keeping Shabbos you have “added much importance and prestige to the important work of the JDC” * JDC: We are sure you will agree that ministering to Jewish needs in catastrophic situations permit such activities to be carried out on the Sabbath * Frierdiker Rebbe: Undoubtedly there is an orthodox Rabbi within reach of the JDC’s representatives everywhere whom they can, and I hope do, consult as to what exceptions are permitted in such cases according to the laws of our Torah * The Refugees’ Story – Tenth Installment

As described in previous installments, the Frierdiker Rebbe was involved in every aspect of the refugee crisis, providing the Jewish refugees with all their physical and spiritual needs.

However, his involvement didn’t stop with the refugees; the Frierdiker Rebbe was also involved in encouraging the officers of the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to act in accordance with Halacha.

In this installment we present the Frierdiker Rebbe’s involvement in ensuring that the JDC offices in Europe are closed on Shabbos, and a letter from the Frierdiker Rebbe never published before.

These fascinating documents are part of the JDC Archives (which were digitized and uploaded online, thanks to a grant from Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE).

MAKE SURE THE OFFICES ARE CLOSED

On Teves 19, 5708 the Frierdiker Rebbe wrote the following letter to Mr. Moshe Leavitt, the executive Vice-Chairman of the JDC (translated from Yiddish – Igros Kodesh Vol. 9 page 378-9):

I was informed that the director of the JDC in Linz, Austria has decided to close his offices on Shabbos.

It came as a great surprise to me that there is a possibility that JDC offices should be open on Shabbos, and it came as a great joy to me that in Linz this issue was remedied.

I would like to believe that in other locations the JDC offices are closed on Shabbos, but to prevent such possibility, I would like to ask you to send a circular to all your divisions with the requirement that all their offices should be closed on Shabbos.

HAPPY TO HEAR THAT THE OFFICE IS CLOSED

On the same day (Teves 19, 5708), the Frierdiker Rebbe wrote a letter to Mr. Kautmann, the director of the JDC in Austria (translated from Yiddish – Igros Kodesh Vol. 9 page 378):

I was very happy to receive the report that you have decided to close the JDC offices in Linz on Shabbos.

Aside for preventing the desecration of Shabbos, and aside for the great sanctification of G-d’s name through the observance of Shabbos – concepts that their greatness cannot be described in words – you have, with your step, added much importance and prestige to the important work of the JDC.

In this merit may G-d bless you, and may you be successful physically and spiritually.

WHEN A TRANSPORT OF REFUGEES ARRIVES…

On January 22, 1948 [Shvat 11, 5708] Mr. Moshe Leavitt responded to the Frierdiker Rebbe:

Dear Rabbi Schneersohn:

Thank you for your letter.

We wish to assure you that the JDC is in principle dedicated to the observance of Jewish religious traditions and there is no desire on the part of our representatives to disavow these traditions. As a rule our offices are closed on the Sabbath but because of the frequent emergencies which arise, there must be exceptions.

When a transport of refugees arrives and there is need for immediate care and action in providing housing, it is necessary for our staff in the particular area to come to their aid. The hour of the day or night or the day of the week cannot be permitted to stand in the way of bringing immediate succor to them. We are sure you will agree that ministering to Jewish needs in catastrophic situations permit such activities to be carried out on the Sabbath as consistent with the strictest religious observance.

We appreciate your interest.

CONSULT WITH AN ORTHODOX RABBI

Pirsum Rishon: The Frierdiker Rebbe responded with a letter on Shvat 22, 5708:

Referring to your letter of January 22nd, I was very gratified to note that the JDC is in principle dedicated to the observance of Jewish religious traditions, and endeavors sincerely to live up to this principle, and that the only exceptions made with regard to Sabbath observance at the Joint’s offices are in cases of Pikuach Nefesh (vital emergency).

Undoubtedly there is an orthodox Rabbi within reach of the JDC’s representatives everywhere whom they can, and I hope do, consult as to what exceptions are permitted in such cases according to the laws of our Torah.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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