Halachah Musings

That’s Rabbi So-and-So To You

by R. Gil Student Aside from its obvious effect on those who became ill, Covid caused many secondary effects in society. Among them is clergy exit. Clergy of all religions faced unusual strain during the pandemic and many clergy members have decided to change professions. I was asked by a rabbi who left the rabbinate for a corporate career whether ...

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Last Names in Jewish Law

by R. Gil Student I. What’s In a Surname? Last names serve to identify an individual with greater specificity. There may be many men named Yosef ben Ya’akov in the marketplace but Yosef ben Ya’akov Schwartz is much less common. Should we use last names in Jewish ritual and particularly in Jewish legal documents like a kesubah and get? Initially, ...

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Havdalah on Tisha B’Av

by R. Gil Student I. Havdalah Options Havdalah separates between the sanctity of Shabbos and the regular nature of the week. We must observe the prohibitions of Shabbos until we say Havdalah. Additionally, we may not eat until we recite Havdalah on a cup of wine or its equivalent. When Tisha B’Av falls or is observed on Saturday night through ...

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Disinterment for an Agunah

by R. Gil Student The Sages instituted many leniencies to permit the classical agunah, a woman whose husband has disappeared and cannot remarry without proof of death. How far would they go? In Kesubos (22b), Rav Assi distinguishes between a case of witnesses who testify that a woman’s husband died, which cannot be verified, and that of witnesses who testify ...

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Responding to Accusations

by R. Gil Student I. Silence in the Face of Accusations Silence implies guilt. If we refuse to deny an accusation, we give it credibility. Does that mean that we are obligated to respond to every insult and accusation against us? In theory, we can easily deny a charge. However, often responding to it gives it credibility. Some mischievous people ...

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Hearing Profanity

by R. Gil Student I. Close Your Ears The Gemara in Kesubos (5a-b) says, “What does it mean: ‘And you shall have a shovel among your weapons (azenekha)’ (Deut. 23:14)? Do not read it as: ’your weapons’ but as ‘your ear’ (oznekha). If a person hears something improper (davar she-eino hagun), ⁦he should put his finger into his ears.” The ...

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Praying for the Negligent Sick

by R. Gil Student I. Taking Risks The Torah requires us to take care of our health but few people do this vigilantly. Most people take small risks, eat moderately unhealthy foods frequently, exercise too little and otherwise insufficiently care for our health. We are too busy, too stuck in our ways and too easily tempted. These are normal risks ...

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Do I Have to Listen to a Rabbi?

by R. Gil Student When you ask a rabbi a question, you are committing yourself to following his answer. But what if you didn’t ask? Do you still have to follow his ruling? Put in a different way, and a bit more broadly, should a rabbinic authority insist that his ruling be followed? Of course, we live in a free ...

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The Contested Chief Rabbi and the Acceptance of the Torah

by R. Gil Student I. The Contested Chief Rabbi of France The source of the obligation to observe the Torah’s commandments connects to an obscure medieval debate over the chief rabbinate of France. In 1385, on the death of Rav Matisyahu Treves, the chief rabbi of France, his son, Rav Yochanan Treves, was appointed in his place with the consent ...

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Solving the Problem of the 39 Shabbos Labors

by R. Gil Student It is well known that the biblical prohibitions of Shabbat can be classified into 39 labors — melakhos — that are listed in the second Mishna of the seventh chapter of Shabbos. The Gemara (Shabbos 49b) relates an attempt to find a source in the written Torah for this ancient oral tradition. The various forms of ...

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