From The Jewish Thought Files

Were Some Gedolim Heretics?

by R. Gil Student I. Great Rabbis and Divergent Beliefs I have been asked many times whether the act of defining lines of acceptable beliefs pushes some great Jewish thinkers outside of normative Judaism. Can we really declare that some great rabbis were heretics? Can we take away their place in the World-to-Come? If not, then we have to say ...

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Do Jews Go to Hell?

by R. Gil Student I. Hell in the Jewish Tradition Every once in a while, someone in the media will say that Jews do not believe in Hell. This is puzzling because related terms are mentioned in the Bible and rabbinic literature. The word “She’ol” appears 66 times in the Hebrew Bible. Rashi (Gen. 37:35) says that while She’ol means ...

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Jewish Commentaries on Christianity

by R. Gil Student In the past, we have discussed briefly the halakhic debate over how to categorize the religion of Christianity within Jewish law. Does the incorrect belief in a trinity constitute polytheism or the worship of God and other beings (shituf)? Either way, it is forbidden under the Sinaitic covenant but if it is shituf, there are some ...

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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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Can Mashiach Come on Rosh Hashanah?

by R. Gil Student We believe, with complete faith, that Mashiach will come and we wait daily for his arrival. Does that mean that he can come any day? On the one hand, this is all a theoretical exercise. When he comes, he comes. We won’t tell him, “Sorry, it’s the wrong day.” However, the Sages discussed this, which means ...

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Could Acher Return?

by R. Gil Student I. Acher’s Sins Repentance, teshuvah, is an ability to repair the past and create a better future. Everyone sins. Teshuvah allows you to get past that, to learn from your mistakes and improve yourself. Those who are mostly religious and those who are mostly non-religious need teshuvah in order to become better Jews. In theory, anyone ...

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Re’eh: The Spiritual Source of Amazon Prime

by R. Gil Student Everyone likes the feeling of getting a new toy. Whether you are a child and it’s a literal toy or you are an adult and it is whatever “thing” makes you happy — clothes, gadgets, food, exercise equipment, or — my favorite — books. When it is on its way, you have this excited feeling of ...

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Dream Interpretations

by R. Gil Student Our dreams intrigue us and sometimes haunt us. Often, they challenge us to try to understand their meaning. Granted, not all dreams contain a divine message. As we discussed earlier, today almost all dreams are products of the messages that are hurled at us non-stop all day. But let’s assume that a specific dream is, indeed, ...

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Eruvin, Archeology and the Conquest of Canaan

by R. Gil Student I. The Conquest of Canaan Many historians with a critical eye toward the Bible point out that the archeological record seems to contradict the biblical account of Yehoshua’s conquest of the land. While the archeological record shows that many areas of the land contain artifacts showing evidence of a Jewish presence at that, many places lack ...

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The Finer Things in Life and the Talmud

by R. Gil Student Is it proper to enjoy good food or should we avoid worldly pleasures and focus on spiritual success? The Talmud contains a plethora of seemingly contradictory indications on whether it is morally proper for a Torah scholar, someone striving for spiritual achievement, to eat good food. Rav Ya’akov Emden (Lechem Shamayim, Avos 6:4) attempts to resolve ...

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