Chumash Musings

Noach’s Sacrifices

by R. Gil Student From a philosophical perspective, why did Noach bring sacrifices? And Noach built an altar to God and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt-offerings on the altar. (Gen. 8:20) Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim 3:32) famously argues that a primary reason for animal sacrifice was to wean the Jewish people from idolatry. ...

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Ambiguous Prophecies

by R. Gil Student I. Calculating the End For a long time, I struggled to understand how classical Bible commentators could be so wrong. Many of them attempted to calculate when mashiach would come based on the biblical prophecies. Rav Sa’adia Gaon (Emunos Ve-Dei’os 8:3) says that mashiach will come 1335 years after Daniel’s prophecy. If that prophecy was said ...

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Maternity Sacrifice

by R. Gil Student I. New Mothers In Temple times, childbirth included two ritual elements that some may find surprising. One is a long period (40 or 80 days) of impurity and the other is a requirement to bring a sacrifice that includes a chatas, a sin offering (Lev. 12). Why does the Torah require for childbirth, a joyous occasion, ...

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Finding Inspiration After Purim

by R. Gil Student We celebrate Purim every year to commemorate the celebration in ancient times, when joy conquered fear and good vanquished evil. The story of Esther and Mordechai as told in the book of Esther takes place over many years. Too often, we skip the dates in the text and miss an important message hiding in plain sight ...

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How to Deal with Troubling Commentaries

by R. Gil Student God is connected to everyone who reaches out to Him, as the Midrash (Eliyahu Rabbah, 9) teaches, “I call heaven and earth to witness that whether Jew or Gentile, man or woman, slave or maidservant, everything is according to their actions that the divine spirit rests on them.” Every place the Torah and Talmud discuss holiness and chosenness, ...

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Is the Bible the Future of Politics

by R. Gil Student This article originally appeared in The Jewish Press Politics needs new ideas. The recent presidential election taught us many lessons about celebrity and scandal, inaction and consequences, the limits of media and polls, and much more. Perhaps more than anything, the election expressed the public’s widespread dissatisfaction with the political leaders of the past decade who ...

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Translating God

by R. Gil Student A long tradition exists of criticizing translators. The nuance of one language is often difficult to discern much less to transfer to a different tongue. Commentary, conventional wisdom has it, is inherent in translation. Judaism has a quasi-official translation of the Pentateuch, and it isn’t Artscroll. It is Targum Onkelos, the ancient Aramaic translation attributed to ...

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The Great Religious Challenge

by R. Gil Student Too often, rabbis don’t get it. Having spent their entire lives enveloped in a welcoming Jewish environment, they do not fully grasp the challenges facing their congregants in university and the workplace. We sometimes hear platitudes that were only barely true when coined but now lack any connection to reality. For example, it may once have ...

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How Can I Believe That Jonah Was Swallowed By A Fish?

by R. Gil Student My latest article on Jew in the city The book of Jonah tells the famous story of a big fish (not whale) swallowing Jonah for three days until the prophet emerged unscathed. To someone like me with more of skeptical point-of-view, this episode is hard to swallow. Jonah had fled from the land of Israel after God ...

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Biblical Defamation in Divorce and Politics

by R. Gil Student I. The Source of Defamation Unsurprisingly, one of the two sources in the Torah for defamation, hotza’as shem ra, is an ugly divorce. The Chafetz Chaim, the classic work on Jewish speech ethics by the rabbi who is now called by the book’s name, distinguishes between disparagement (true damaging statements) and defamation (false damaging statements). He ...

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