Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rabbi Michael Broyde: Is his attribution to Lubavitcher Rebbe genuine?

Guest Post by Dr. Ben Bradley. In the context of the recent controversy about Rabbi Dr Michael Broyde and a letter by an apparently non-existent talmid chacham (the source of which has not been confirmed), which buttressed Rabbi Broyde's halachic arguments, I thought it important to put to following information in the public domain.

I am a family physician and as such I attended a talk for doctors and medical students in London in 2009 by Rabbi Broyde. Amongst other issues he discussed opinions in halacha about the breadth of the permission to break Shabbos for medical purposes and mentioned some very lenient opinions although only in general terms with no specific sources or details. In particular he mentioned a letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in which he gave permission to sit an entrance exam for medical school on Shabbos. I was taken aback as this was well outside any heter I was aware of. I asked one of my rebbeim, a Lubavitcher talmid chacham with a vast familiarity with Chabad sources, about this. He was unaware of such a letter, thought that if it existed it would be unlikely that he didn't know about it, and further thought it highly improbable that the Rebbe would write such a thing for a variety of reasons.

I therefore emailed Rabbi Broyde asking where to find the source. He replied briefly that he didn't think it had been published, so I asked again where I could at least find reference to it. I had no further response from him and thought little further about it until now, since an evidently non-genuine letter has come to light giving halachic support for Dr Broyde's opinions. Now I am almost certain that this letter mentioned at his shiur does not exist and think this should be made public.

If anyone can find valid reference to this opinion of the Lubavitcher Rebbe anywhere at all I will be pleased to retract this posting.

Dr Ben Bradley


  1. I have never heard of it and it sounds rather suspicious. The Rebbe never gave such advice. When a question involved a halachic matter he ALWAYS told people to speak with a Rav. The Rebbe almost never gave halachic advice.

  2. My father-in-law, a well known dentist in Williamsburg, recounts that when he was a student in NYU's dental school in the late 50s, there were quite a number of 'Orthodox' students who took the exams that were often given on Shabbos.
    My father-in-law, a relatively new ba'al teshuva at the time used to say, "I don't know if Hashem wants be to be a dentist or not, but I do know that He wants me to keep Shabbos."
    Eventually, due in part to his efforts, NYU stopped insisting that the tests had to be taken on Shabbos.
    Many years later, I found out that my father-in-law finished off a fight that had been started decades earlier by a great-uncle of mine, who was also a dental student at NYU.

  3. I think it is very unlikely that such an opinion was ever expressed by Lubavitch. I am not fan of Habad, but the rebbe was very close to the previous rebbe , his father in law. R Joseph Schneerson was so strict on shabbat laws, that he (mistakenly IMHO) attacked R' Aaron Kotler for saving Jews in Europe by breaking shabbes. I hardly think that the successor would permit breakisn shabbes to pass a medical exam!
    Also note the absence of any reference for this claim, even when pressed by the writer of the post.

  4. Sounds veeeery fishy. To begin with, the Rebbe was not exactly a proponent of college / university. Add to that the fact that the Rebbe never ever gave halachic advice and that he was extremely machmir with pretty much everything. This " letter" smells very fake. Broyde knew if he says it in the name of the Rebbe that some will dismiss it as a crazy lubavitch thing and others will follow it blindly not knowing better. The sheer volume of responds from the Rebbe would make it extremely difficult to locate that one letter especially if it wasn't published.

  5. R Eliezer Silver of Cincinnati had a son who attended the medical school there. When an exam was scheduled for Yom Tov and he refused to take it the professor called him into his office and suggested that he needed to chose if he was going to be a doctor or a " rabbi"
    When Rav Silver was told of the confrontation he asked his close friend Senator Taft to intercede The exam was rescheduled and the professor reassigned

  6. This is baloney. The Lubavitcher Rebbe never wrote such a letter.

  7. there is a story that RYBS allowed a student to attend class on shabbat, no writing,no chillul shabbat. but this is a foolish entrance exam.

    i heard the rav silver story. also, note, in the 80s, SUNY / buffalo was caught doing something similar to an applicant . it was pointed out that NYS had / has a specific law requiring exams to be given on days other than shabbat (or other religious observance; dont take advantage of this on purim or other "minor" holidays.)

    my mother tells me in hungary, all jewish students (including the rebbe's children) attended public school on shabbat. arrangements were made for after davening, etc, and no writing or other chillul shabbat.

  8. This discussion shows the dangers of paskening based on hearsay that can't be authenticated, or, if authenticated, fully understood.

  9. This is certainly false, as the Lubavitcher Rebbe never issued halachic rulings in his letters, and even after presenting all the sources / rationale will explicitly state that what he writes regarding halachic questions is "lehalocho velo lemaaseh". Anybody even remotely familiar with his writings (which Dr. Broyde obviously was not) will know this.

    Ps. Just one example can be seen in the LR's letters vol.6 p.268 where, in response to a Rov's question regarding a heter for a man to dye his hair, the rebbe clarifies the issue lehalocho, outlines the possible ways to categorize it halachically, and then writes that the reason he is not citing sources from shas and rishonim is because he does not write to rule halachically "b'shum offen" (before going on to cite references to many major poskim where the Rov in question will be able to rule from on his own).


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