- Question: [Sunday, 14th Shevat, 5782]
I am accustomed whenever I write a formal letter or email to begin with the words Shalom Ubracha as did the Rebbe. My question is regarding if there is any issue in writing this when the letter is intended to a woman. [I am a male.]
When a man writes a letter to a woman who is not his wife and is not a close relative, then it is proper not to begin with the word Shalom. One can simply choose to write Bracha Veshalom, as indeed was accustomed by the Rebbe whenever he would write letters to women. The same applies vice a versa that when a woman writes a letter to a man, she should not begin with the word Shalom. Nonetheless, those who do so have upon whom to rely.
Explanation: The Talmud and Poskim rule that a man may not ask a woman at all as to her wellbeing, as this can lead to them being acquainted with each other which can lead towards an affectionate relationship. Alternatively, the reason is because the voice of a woman is considered an Erva. According to the second reason, there is no issue in writing the word Shalom to a woman, being that he will not hear her voice, however, according to the first reason, this is forbidden. Practically today, even to say the word Shalom without adding the word “Shalom Alecha”, is permitted, and so is the custom of the world being that it is all considered done out of Derech Eretz and formality and is not a sign of affection. Nonetheless, if one is able to avoid doing so without risking offending the woman it is a holy act to be stringent. Based on all this, it comes out, that although a man who begins a letter to a woman with the word Shalom has upon whom to rely, it is proper to be stringent, as is the letter of the law. Accordingly, you should avoid beginning the letter with the word Shalom, and so was indeed the custom of the Rebbe, as we will now explain.
The Rebbe’s custom: Very interestingly, we find that the Rebbe had a pattern of beginning every letter with the word’s peace and greetings, Shalom Ubracha. This was also the custom of the Rebbe Rayatz, although was not seen to be followed by the previous Rabbeim in their letters. [In a quick search, I did not find it in the letters written by the Alter Rebbe, Mittler Rebbe, Tzemach Tzedek, or Rebbe Rashab]. Now, if you pay attention, whenever the Rebbe wrote a letter to a male he wrote the words in the order “Shalom Ubracha.” However, whenever he wrote a letter to a female, or a group of females, or female organization, he wrote it in the opposite order, “Bracha Veshalom.” This was indeed likewise done by the Rebbe Rayatz, as can be seen in his set of Igros Kodesh. I have been asked in the past regarding this change and answered that it is most likely due to the issue of greeting a woman with the word Shalom, which would be transgressed if the order is Shalom Ubracha, in which case the Shalom is independent of the blessing and of issue to write to a woman. However, in writing the order Bracha Veshalom, the word peace appears to the reader as a mere a continuation of the word blessing, and that they are being blessed with peace. In other words, the former order is a greeting while the latter order is a blessing, and there is no issue with blessing a woman with peace, and that is why the Rebbe chose this order when he wrote to woman. Indeed, I later discovered that the Rebbe himself explained this habit of his to write the order of Bracha Veshalom to women in order to avoid the prohibition of saying Shalom to a woman.
Sources: See regarding the prohibition of a man saying Shalom to a woman: Michaber E.H. 21:6; Shmuel Keddushin 70b; Rashi ibid; Chelkas Mechokek 21:7; Ezer Mikodesh 21:6; Maharam Shick E.H. 53; Aruch Hashulchan 21:8; See regarding the custom of being lenient: Maharam Shick E.H. 53; Minchas Yitzchak 8:126; Betzeil Hachochmah 5:48-12; 49; See regarding the custom of the Rebbe: Maaseh Melech p. 65; Yimei Bereishis p. 182