Interfaith services
Interfaith services

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman was the Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva in Baranovitch, Poland and disciple of the Chofetz Chaim. He describes the proper attitude Jews should have while in exile. He explains, that the Torah exhorts the Jewish people to be separate and distinct from the nations of the world. As the verse says, “I separated you from the nations to be for me (Leviticus 20:26)”. Unfortunately, throughout our history there have been those who have rebelled and declared, “Let us be like the nations”.   

However, as much as some Jews try to assimilate, G-d proclaims that this will never happen:  “And that which comes to your mind that you say, ‘We will be like the nations, like the families of the countries to serve wood and stone.’ ‘As I live,’ says the L-rd G-d, ‘surely with a mighty hand, and an outstretched arm, and with anger poured out will I be king over you. And I will bring you out from the peoples and will gather you out of the countries in which you are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with anger poured out’ (Ezekiel 20:32-34)”.  (Based on this verse, Rabbi Wasserman predicted a great calamity would befall the Jewish people. He wrote this before the Holocaust.)

The more Jews try to be like the Gentiles, the more the Gentiles push them away. Rabbi Wasserman quotes Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, the author of the classic sefer “Beis Halevi” and Rosh Yeshiva of Volozhin. Rabbi Soloveitchik cites the havdallah prayer that one says at the conclusion of Shabbos and Yom Tov. One recites, “He who has separated between light and darkness and between the Jews and all other nations.”  Rabbi Soloveitchik explains just as there is a clear demarcation between light and dark, so too there is a clear difference between Jews and non-Jews. He adds that when Jews try to blur that distinction, there will be pushback from the non-Jewish nations in order to maintain the separation. Just as the separation between night and day cannot change, so too the separation of Jew and Gentile cannot change.

After the tragedy in Pittsburgh, when assimilated Jews were attacked for being Jews, many were at a loss on how to respond. Unfortunately, some otherwise religious Jews (some who I know personally), reacted by joining and encouraging interfaith prayer services. Email blasts went out from synagogues advertising the event.

Our most sacred beliefs regarding the unity of G-d, the uniqueness of the Jewish people, and the eternal nature of the Torah, stand in stark contrast to the theology of these other faiths. Participating in a joint service with the leaders of other faiths, is granting legitimacy to their ideology and undermining our own holy faith and beliefs.

Besides the grave halakhic issues involved, an interfaith service is not only an incorrect response to anti-Semitism but also counterproductive, as shown and demonstrated by Rabbis Soloveitchik and Wasserman. Those participating were actually blurring the distinction between Jew and non-Jew. Such services actually encourage and produce hatred and disdain for our fellow Jews. As we are attacked for being Jews, the correct response is to strengthen our own uniqueness as Jews.

Rabbi Wasserman credits Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, on Jews retaining their uniqueness by not intermingling with the Egyptians. He states, that so too the ultimate redemption will be for he who maintains the proper separation from his host nation.

May we learn from the Jews who were redeemed from Egypt and strengthen our commitment to G-d by being His unique and chosen people.


Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman was one of the leaders of Jewry before WWII and a martyr of the Holocaust. His writings were published in a sefer called קובץ מאמרים.