Debate raged in a small New Jersey town. It was 1980, and a large Chanukah menorah had been erected in the garden of the courthouse in Hackensack, New Jersey. The menorah attracted Jews, and heightened the holiday awareness and celebration in the area.

By that time, public menorahs were on display in cities across the United States of America, including one in the nation’s capital, in front of the White House.

The following year, the Teaneck Jewish Community Council reached a unanimous decision opposing the erection of a similar menorah outside City Hall, which the local Chabad rabbi was planning to erect. They planned to raise the issue with the town council.

The local Chabad emissary responded that nonetheless he was planning to erect the menorah, as permitted by American law. He continued to dedicate his time to planning the project.

Larry Jaffe, at the time a JCC board member, wrote a warm letter to the Rebbe, on behalf of the entire board, explaining their position.

The Rebbe responded to his letter on November 22, 1981:

No doubt you have received my message in reply to your letter of Nov. 18 on the matter of placing a Chanukah menorah on public property in Teaneck. For the record, I will also reiterate here in writing, briefly at any rate.

The subject matter in general is not a new idea requiring investigation as to constitutionality, public reaction, etc. All this has already been fully weighed years ago, resulting in overwhelming support for the idea, and in the actual erection of a gigantic Chanukah menorah on public property in Manhattan, in the City of New York, the largest in the USA; also in Washington, the nation’s capital; as well as Philadelphia, the birthplace of America’s independence. Chanukah menorahs are on display in many cities throughout the Union.

Thus it has been long recognized in the USA that the erection of a public Chanukah menorah is a positive thing because of its universal message of freedom of the human spirit, freedom from tyranny and oppression, and of the ultimate victory of good over evil, just as “a little light dispels a lot of darkness.” These fundamental human aspirations and principles, as visibly symbolized by [the] kindling of the Chanukah lights, are surely shared by the vast majority of Americans.

Indeed, so enthusiastically welcome has the public Chanukah menorah been that its inaugurals have been graced by the personal participation of the president of the United States in Washington, and of the highest city and state officials and dignitaries wherever the Chanukah menorah made its annual appearance.

As an attorney of law you know, of course, the force of precedent, especially one that has recurred many times, in every court of law.

Incidentally, the said public Chanukah menorah has already become a familiar sight, since it has usually received good coverage by the media.

Your personal effort in this matter is sincerely appreciated.

With esteem and blessing,

An excerpt from Dear Rebbe: The Famous and Unknown Correspond with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a project of Lubavitch Archives.