Halachah Musings

Redeeming a Captive Caught in the Legal System

by R. Gil Student I. Important Mitzvah In Jewish law and tradition, redeeming a captive (pidyon shevuyim) is the highest form of charity. The Talmud (Bava Basra 8a) refers to it with the unusual term of “great mitzvah” and Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 252:1), the code of Jewish law, says that “there is no mitzvah as great as pidyon shevuyim.” ...

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Is a Minyan Factory Kosher?

by R. Gil Student I. One Shul, Multiple Minyanim It is now common for some synagogues to hold multiple minyanim (prayer services) at different times. The most active are open nearly 24 hours a day, holding morning services every half hour, alternating rooms so there is no overlap, and afternoon and evening services every fifteen minutes. Colloquially, they are called ...

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Can AI Do Your Homework?

by R. Gil Student I. Artificial Intelligence and School Work Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made great progress over recent years. Within the past few months, one company released two products online for the public to use. Dall-E creates graphic images based on a user’s natural language request, attempting to understand what you want and drawing it. ChatGPT holds conversations with ...

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Whose Oil?

by R. Gil Student On Chanukah, we light candles or oil for eight nights. The Gemara and poskim discuss which oils and candles are more preferable than others in order to publicize the miracle God performed for us in the time of the Maccabees. An additional question arose in the nineteenth century regarding the material we light for Chanukah. I. ...

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Picking Favorites in Torah

by R. Gil Student I. Singling Out a Teaching When you say something, sometimes the loudest part is what you leave unsaid. The Gemara (Bava Basra 164b) warns against praising someone because that can lead to criticizing him. While this needs to be limited, as commentators explain, the basic idea retains power. Even positive speech can have negative implications. The ...

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Voice Recognition in Jewish Law

by R. Gil Student I. Identifying People We use many faculties to observe the goings on about us. When one sense is unavailable, we often use others to compensate. Even if we cannot see someone, we can still identify their presence by the sound of their voice. Does this identification have bearing in Jewish law? Identification by sight can be ...

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Expelling a Member from Shul

by R. Gil Student It is both a privilege and an obligation to belong to a shul. However, sometimes a community finds it necessary to expel a member. Under what conditions is it permissible to tell someone he is no longer welcome in shul? Surprisingly, even though this has been an issue for at least a thousand years (probably longer), ...

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Can an Atheist Do a Mitzvah?

by R. Gil Student I. Reasons for Mitzvos Everyone fulfills commandments at some point, even if only incidentally. But can the actions of an atheist or other non-believer count as mitzvos, as fulfillments of the divine command, when they are not intended as such? This matter is subject to debate but the majority seem to agree that a non-believer does ...

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Does a Sukkah Need WiFi for WFH?

by R. Gil Student I. A Usable Sukkah A sukkah needs to be usable. Rav Moshe Isserles (Rema, 16th cen., Poland; gloss to Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 640:4) writes that a sukkah in which you cannot do certain basic things is an invalid sukkah. For example, if you cannot sleep in a specific sukkah, then it is invalid for all ...

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May a Yisrael Dukhen?

by R. Gil Student I. Who May Dukhen? The Torah commands kohanim, male descendants of the priestly families, to bless other Jews while raising their hands and reciting a specific formula, i.e. to dukhen, to do Nesi’as Kapayim. “Speak with Aharon and with his sons, saying: In this way you shall bless the children of Israel; you shall say to ...

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