Halachah Musings

Once A Jew, Always A Jew?

by R. Gil Student We are generally taught that a Jew always remains a Jew no matter how often he sins – even if he converts to another religion. As the Gemara (Sanhedrin 44a) says regarding Achan (see Yehoshua 7), “A Jew, even though he sinned, is a Jew.” Yet, the matter is not as simple as some people believe. In fact, the ...

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Over-Reaction to Over-Stringency

by R. Gil Student I. Disruptive Stringencies The halakhic process is messy. Authorities disagree based on prooftexts and arguments. Debates continue over many generations. Sometimes these disagreements conclude and one view gains consensus. When that happens, is there any benefit to act stringently as a pious measure? What if a rabbi disagrees with this consensus? Around the year 1570, this ...

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Lack of a Rabbi in the Modern Era

by R. Gil Student I. Non-Believing Jews The modern era presents unique challenges to traditional religion. Most changes are matters of a phenomenon’s extent, quantity rather than quality. However, a greatly expanded phenomenon may require a different response. The example we will discuss here is the growth of secularism in the community. While atheists and religious deniers always existed, in ...

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Religious Inconsistency

by R. Gil Student Religious inconsistency, when purportedly religious people pick and choose among rules, frustrates observers by not only its exhibition of human frailty but also its irrationality. If you are going to choose which rules to ignore, shouldn’t you select those that are less important? However, human beings are not rational. They make decisions based on many considerations, ...

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Do You Need A Rabbi For A Wedding?

I. What A Rabbi Does Most of us have been to enough Jewish weddings that we know how they work. We can easily officiate. Even without a big crowd, all a man has to do is give a woman a ring in front of two witnesses and say the “harei at” formula. Who needs a rabbi? If you really want ...

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My Leniency and Your Stringency

by R. Gil Student The complex nature of halakhah leads to multiple opinions on various issues — expert judgment often varies. We expect that two scholars who legitimately disagree still respect each other’s right to an opinion. If I eat a certain food that is controversial, I would not feed it to someone who believes he may not eat it. ...

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Controversial Young Rabbis

by R. Gil Student I. Enforcing Qualifications In the 16th century, Egypt was home to a thriving Jewish community to which, in some ways, Israel was a satellite. In any community, people will try to find ways around authority figures – sometimes for good reasons, but often for less than noble ones. At the time in Egypt, people were selecting ...

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The Egyptian Samsonite

by R. Gil Student I. Be Careful What You Say Looking through sixteenth century responsa from the Mediterranean region, I saw something strange that I have not seen in any other time and place. Many responsa discuss the rare phenomenon of the Nezir Shimshon, a Samson Nazirite. Most generations barely mention this phenomenon other than in a theoretical sense. This ...

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The Child Bride of Tripoli

by R. Gil Student I. Marriage, Annulment and Marriage In 1516, two brothers in Tripoli, Lebanon (not Libya) married their children to each other — a nine-year old girl named Yakuta to her first cousin, Pinchas, who was probably not much over the age of 13. Eight months later, the Ottomans conquered the city. The young couple was captured and ...

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A Teen Romance in Jewish Egypt

by R. Gil Student I. The Marriage In 1527, in a courtyard in Egypt, a young Jewish man gave a young Jewish woman a wedding ring against her father’s wishes. Or at least that is what two witnesses claim occurred. Two other witnesses testified that this was impossible because they observed the area whose gate was closed the entire time ...

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