Halachah Musings

Umbrellas on Shabbos

by R. Gil Student I. Umbrellas and Precedents The status of new technologies are often determined by the first major authorities to rule. Practices harden quickly and institutional positions, once set, change only with difficulty. This conservative tendency preserves socio-religious boundaries but also favors early movers. The use of umbrellas on Shabbos, universally forbidden in the Orthodox Jewish community, is ...

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The Other Jewish Death Penalty

by R. Gil Student Even those with only a passing knowledge of the Five Books of Moses recognize the death penalty applied to various sins. The Oral Torah, committed to writing centuries later, explains the procedural limitations to these penalties. However there is another Jewish penalty that was administered in one way or another into the early Modern Era. I. ...

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Why Do So Many People Not Sleep In A Sukkah?

by R. Gil Student Maseches Sukkah holds a special place in my heart as it is the first tractate I completed. It is clear from this masechta (e.g. Sukkah 20b and 26a) that men are commanded to sleep in a sukkah during the yom tov of Sukkos. And yet, so many frum Jews today do not. How are we to understand this disconnect between the texts we study and the contemporary practice ...

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Does Tashlikh Make Sense?

by R. Gil Student I. Fixing Judaism On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, many have the custom of walking to a natural source of running water and reciting the Tashlikh prayers. The texts consist primarily of biblical passages, with many additional prayers added for the ambitious reciter. The name of the ceremony seems to come from ...

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When a Baby Dies

by R. Gil Student Few experiences hurt more than a child’s death. Parents naturally blame themselves at some point in the mourning process but they are not to blame. As we will see, even those few statement in the Talmud about parents’ responsibility (e.g. for failing to fulfill vows) are not taken by the commentators as literal culpability. God’s decision ...

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Confessional Memoirs

by R. Gil Student We live in a time of first-person confessionals, when people openly publish their intimate thoughts, challenges and failures. Readers sympathize and cheer, as they peer into someone’s life and see both the frailty of humanity and its greatness in our ability to overcome obstacles. Is it proper for writers to reveal their failings in this way? ...

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What is Masorah?

by R. Gil Student After more than three years, I am reposting the conclusion and summary of the symposium on masorah. Jewish tradition changes but only in order to remain the same. Unlike a liberal approach to religious practice, which freely adapts the past to contemporary sensibilities, a conservative approach—which I believe Orthodox Judaism demands—strives to preserve the past by ...

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How Long is the Nine Days?

by R. Gil Student During a brief period leading up to Tisha B’Av, Jews observe additional mourning practices. For Ashkenazim, the initial period begins with 17 Tammuz and the intense period begins with Rosh Chodesh Av, the first day of the month whose mourning culminates with the ninth day, Tisha Be-Av. These nine days include customary restrictions on eating meat, ...

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When In Doubt, Learn Torah

by R. Gil Student I. Don’t Disagree The mourning practices of Tisha B’Av include a prohibition on learning Torah, an activity that naturally leads to joy. Some authorities forbid learning Torah on the afternoon before Tisha B’Av, so you don’t enter the day full of the joy of Torah. Others permit it because the mourning has not yet started. Rav ...

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Siyum, Chazak and Yashar Koach

by R. Gil Student I.Strong Finish As we finish reading Bamidbar this week, we can take the time to ask why the congregation says “Chazak, chazak ve-nischazek (alt: ve-nischazak)” after completing the reading of one of the five books of Moshe. Literally, the words mean, “Strong, strong and we will become strong.” The implication is that after we finish studying ...

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