Halachah Musings

Nudity in Jewish Law

by R. Gil Student I. Revealing Nakedness The Torah refers to forbidden relations as revealing the nakedness of someone else (Lev. 18). However, this is a euphemism. In a literal sense, you may not reveal our own nakedness, i.e. walk around nude. The Gemara (Shabbos 118b) quotes R. Yossi who said that the walls of his house never saw the ...

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The Case For Quick Davening

by R. Gil Student I. Praying Quickly We are often told that the slower we pray, the better we pray. We have more intent, more time to think about the meaning of each word. But there may be reasons to pray quickly, saying every word with focus and intent but at a quick pace and without much pausing. Rav Chaim ...

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Waking A Parent

by R. Gil Student In illustrating both the importance of honoring our parents and the extent to which we must go to honor them, the Gemara tells a story that seems difficult to comprehend. It is so extreme that the choice it presents does not conform to our sense of reality and, despite the fame of the story, does not ...

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Rabbi Sacks on Abortion

by R. Gil Student With the U.S. Supreme Court reconsidering federal law on abortion, we return to discuss the issue from another Jewish perspective, this one a bit more liberal. In the past, we have seen leading halakhists of the late 20th century who called abortion “murder.” They include Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Ya’akov Kamenetsky ...

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Should You Light Menorah Outdoors?

by R. Gil Student I. Lighting in Danger The Gemara (Shabbos 21b) says that you must light your Chanukah menorah near the doorway (opening, pesach) of your house on the outside. If you live on an upper floor, you should light it in your window. And in times of danger, you light the menorah on your table. This list of ...

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Chanukah Lights: How Long?

by R. Gil Student Often, when social circumstances change significantly from the past, some people automatically assume that Jewish law must change. Others summarily dismiss the suggestion that the law will ever change. Both approaches are incorrect. Rather, these matters require careful and sensitive analysis by the leading scholars to determine the nature of the law and whether the change ...

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Wealth Tax in Jewish Law

by R. Gil Student There is talk in the U.S. about taxing the wealth of the super-rich. Without engaging in discussion about proper policy today, I would like to explore the concept of a wealth tax in the Jewish tradition. I. Jewish Wealth Tax Historically, Jewish communities in various times and places have had to tax their members. When Jewish ...

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An Apostate’s Son

by R. Gil Student I. The Hungarian Apostate With what name do you call to the Torah someone whose father abandoned Judaism? You do not want to mention the apostate’s name. Rav Yisrael Isserlein (15th cen., Austria; Terumas Ha-Deshen 1:21) quotes two opinions on whether to call the man by just his name alone or by his name and his ...

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Pidyon Shevuyim for Someone Guilty

by R. Gil Student Pidyonim Shevuyim means redeeming a captive, paying someone’s ransom. It is among the highest priorities of mitzvos. Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 252:1) is more important than feeding and clothing the poor. If we fail to redeem captives, we risk rampant death and assimilation of upstanding members of our community. Some people think pidyon shevuyim is a ...

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Forbidden Reading

by R. Gil Student Judaism’s flexibility becomes evident when new circumstances arise that require renewed analysis of the halakhic implications. While some may claim that halakhah is paralyzed, studies of specific cases disprove this evaluation. Even a Mishnaic prohibition can be set aside when warranted by changed circumstances. A case in point is the rabbinic prohibition to read near a ...

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