From The Hashkafah Files

Rabbi Sacks’ Theology of the Stranger: A Halakhic Defense

by R. Gil Student Rabbi Jonathan Sacks zt”l opened up Jewish thought to a broader audience with his prolific writing and speaking about ideas in ways that were both eloquent and accessible. To a surprising degree, he was able to transcend denominational, ethnic and religious communities without sacrificing his traditional Orthodox Jewish beliefs. However, some people contend that in his ...

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The Intellectual Ba’al Teshuvah

by R. Gil Student I. Two Types of Teshuvah The modern Ba’al Teshuvah, someone from a non-religiously observant background who becomes religiously observant, does not fit well into classical categories. That leaves room for us to think about how this modern phenomenon is reflected in Jewish thought. The Gemara (Yoma 86b) quotes two sayings from Reish Lakish. In one, he ...

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Atonement and Suffering

by R. Gil Student I. Repentance and Suffering The Talmud (Yoma 86a) lists four types of sins and their corresponding methods for attaining atonement. A sin that would otherwise be punished by execution or kares (excision) requires repentance and Yom Kippur in order to delay punishment and suffering (yissurin) to achieve full atonement. In Medieval and early Modern times, this ...

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Moshe and Modern Technology

by R. Gil Student Did Moshe know everything, including science and technology? Was he capable of building spaceships and nuclear missiles? Among Torah scholars, there seem to be two answers to those questions. We find those answers in discussions of what was once a new technology, the printing press. I. Printing on the Efod Rav David Ha-Levi Segal (17th cen., ...

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Can Two People Be One?

by R. Gil Student I. Equating Personalities In the late sixteenth century, R. Azariah de Rossi shook the scholarly Jewish world by subjecting Talmudic historical statements to critical scrutiny. His questioning nearly led to his excommunication but his writings found approval by moderate traditionalists centuries later. While examining rabbinic chronology of the Persian monarchy, R. Azariah (Me’or Einayim, Imrei Binah, ...

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Atonement for the Deceased

by R. Gil Student Our time in this world is limited. We strive to do all the good we can and avoid doing wrong. When we sometimes misstep, we try to do teshuvah and atone for our misdeeds. The time for doing mitzvos ends with our passing, at least on a basic level. Is that also the end for our ...

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Does God Fool Us?

by R. Gil Student I. Misleading Messages One of the approaches to respond to the biblical challenge of the age of the universe is the theory that the world was created fully grown, so to speak. Light was already traveling through space, animal remains had already been encased in the earth, trees already had rings implying age, etc. “All of ...

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Schrodinger’s Kiddush Hashem

by R. Gil Student We like to think that a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification or glorification of God’s name, is perfectly good. It is the ultimate expression of religious virtue. In reality, this is not the case and common sense confirms that. Not only is the delineation between Kiddush Hashem and Chillul Hashem blurred, the distinction itself does not hold ...

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The Thirteen Principles of Faith: Chumra or Kula?

by R. Gil Student I. Fundamental Beliefs In today’s conversations, acceptable Jewish beliefs are generally defined by Rambam’s thirteen fundamental principles of faith that he lists in his commentary to the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1). Was that always the case? In a relatively recent book, Ani Ma’amin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith, Rabbi Prof. Joshua Berman ...

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Are Stories Any Good?

by R. Gil Student I. Learning From Stories Judaism thrives on stories that inspire and educate. The Talmud and Midrash contain many such stories, some about legal cases and others about interactions filled with important messages. The Talmud explicitly discusses how to use stories properly, which can inform how we consume information in other areas of our lives. For example, ...

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