Texts: Fast of the Firstborn

by R. Gil Student Common practice today is that firstborn sons (and sometimes daughters and the fathers of young firstborn children) attend a siyum, a celebration of the completion of a program of Torah learning, in order to avoid the fast of the firstborn on erev Pesach. This is so common that last year, during the height of Coronavirus lockdown, ...

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Texts: Who Needs A Gabbai?

Why does a gabbai stand at the Torah reading, together with the reader and the person called to the Torah? Rav Yisrael (Mahari) of Bruno (15th cen., Germany; Responsa, no. 90) follows the view that the Torah reader does not need to be corrected for mistakes (Tur, Raavyah, Tosafos) but adds that he instituted in Germany that a gabbai stand ...

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Texts: Russian Student in Berlin

Rav Azriel Hildesheimer wrote this 1880 response to Wolf Kaminka, a businessman in Berditchev whose 14 year old son Aharon had been rejected from the Berlin seminary because Rav Hildesheimer thought that someone from that background would get lost in Berlin and because of financial matters. Some scholars, on behalf of the the father although perhaps without his knowledge, sent ...

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Texts: The Akedah’s Message

In his article on LGBT and Halachah, Prof. Aaron Koller says that he doubts Akedas Yitzchak, the binding of Isaac (Gen. 22), is about sacrificing one’s family (literally or figuratively) for God’s plan. After all, he points out, in the end Avraham did not sacrifice Yitzchak. Prof Koller direct readers to his forthcoming book on the subject, which I have ...

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Texts: Repentance From Character Traits and Heresy

Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein (d. 1908, Lithuania; Arukh Ha-Shulchan, Orach Chaim 602:4-5)) corrects the common misconception that repentance is only required for bad deeds. In fact, we must repent also for our bad character traits and for our heretical thoughts. In particular, in this time period so close to the arrival of the mashi’ach, heresy is growing. Unfortunately, the old ...

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Texts: Gentile Ways

May a Jew be a vegetarian for ideological reasons? In 1964, Rav Gedaliah Felder published a volume of responsa titled She’eilas Yeshurun in which one responsum answers this question in the negative. One of his considerations is that this attitude comes from gentile sources and contradicts the spirit of Judaism (both, thereby implying that something that comes from gentiles sources ...

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Texts: Gut Shabbos

How old is the phrase “Good Shabbos”? I don’t know but as early as 1426, we know that Maharil said it on a regular Shabbos. When his wife died in that year (a year before his passing), on that Shabbos he did not bless the children in his community and did not — as he normally did — wish people ...

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Texts: Talking Politics on Shabbos

You know what it’s like to get caught in an uncomfortable or tedious political conversation? Apparently Jews in 15th century Germany did also. Rav Yisrael Isserlein, in his Terumas Ha-Deshen (1:61), addresses whether we may discuss politics on Shabbos. He says that if you enjoy it, yes. But many people don’t enjoy it and they may be violating a prohibition.

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Texts: Reuven and Bilhah

by R. Gil Student The Torah (Gen. 35:22) briefly tells how Reuven lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine-wife. Ostensibly, this seems like an act of great disrespect for his father as well as an act of some form of adultery. In Ya’akov’s last words to his sons, he decries Reuven’s having mounted his (Ya’akov’s) bed (Gen. 49:4). That seems to ...

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Texts: The Shabbos Project

by R. Gil Student This is the first of a new occasional series in which I post interesting texts with a brief introduction. These texts will not be representative of a balanced view but merely interesting statements or views for your files. Consider it a pictorial footnote. This is less formal than the usual Torah Musings material, a bit bloggy. ...

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