2023 in Review

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by R. Gil Student

It has been a long time since I did any sort of calendar year in review. However, since 2024 will mark the twentieth anniversary of this blog/website, and in the process of finishing up a book to mark the occasion I have been looking through the history, and also since I have been procrastinating all day rather than write the essay I have in my head, I am doing a brief review of 2023. What follows are only highlights from my own essays during the past year. They do not include any of the outstanding essays by R. Gidon Rothstein or R. Moshe Kurtz, nor the war-related insights of R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz, nor any of the other regular features or guest essays.

We started 2023 with a discussion of Jews and Hell. This began with a question someone asked during my Friday night shiur about the laws of mourning (I know, a weird topic for Shabbos). But it also relates to a strange billboard some organization put up this year claiming that Judaism is attractive because it doesn’t have a concept of Hell, which seems to contradict many sacred texts.

The discussion of whether the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim (redeeming a captive) applies to someone innocent caught up in the American legal system was sparked by an actual question from someone in that situation. Other questions posed to me led to essays about whether it is proper to call a rabbi by his name, to pray at a “minyan factory” or to use book darts on Shabbos. Unfortunately, I could not publicly discuss some of the really controversial questions that came across my plate this past calendar year – but boy was it an interesting time.

Because Artificial Intelligence is the latest “big thing,” we discussed AI as it relates to schoolwork and to issuing halakhic rulings. In terms of popular culture, we discussed “Jewish matchmaking” and Barbie dolls. In terms of learning Torah, we discussed whether it is appropriate to use the Sefaria website or app. I expect some big developments on that topic in the coming year.

There were three essays about Purim – two about mishlo’ach manos and one jokingly about Esther and social media. And also three essays about Pesach – one about checking for chametz, one about family styles of reading the Haggadah and one about avoiding the Pesach sacrifice.

After Pesach, one of my sons got engaged and then got married over the summer. I published two essays about related issues, which garnered some chuckles from those in the know.

And of course, the defining moment of 2023 was the terrorist attack of October 7, the barbarism of which shocked and traumatized the entire state of Israel and Jews around the world. I actually deleted for a few weeks all of the social media apps off my phone to avoid the difficulty of seeing so many horrifying pictures and difficult discussions. The subsequent war led to a series of essays about soldiers and war. The first essay about soldiers (what Torah to learn) was sparked by a question from an IDF soldier:

I recently changed the website’s look a bit by removing all pictures in order to focus more on the text. Every website needs to update its look approximately every two years.

What is coming in 2024? As my youngest child graduates from high school, I will be writing a bit about yeshiva tuition, which will no longer be my problem. Also, as mentioned above, I have a new book in the works – a collection of my most controversial formal articles (lots of footnotes) including some new material. I am also involved in two major literary projects that may or may not become a reality in 2024. I am open to other (realistic, low-to-zero budget) suggestions on how to mark the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of Hirhurim-Torah Musings.

 

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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