From The Jewish Thought Files

Solar Eclipses in Judaism

by R. Gil Student On April 8, 2024, parts of North America will experience a total solar eclipse. Many enthusiasts are traveling to locations where they can experience the darkness that occurs when sunlight is not visible (don’t ruin their fun by telling them about nighttime). In all seriousness, this is a rare natural phenomenon. What does the Torah have ...

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Why Does Genocide Happen?

by R. Gil Student Genocide, the targeted killing of a people, is not a modern invention. Many have tried to kill the Jews, the biblical Haman being perhaps the most famous ancient example. Other nations have also faced genocide, some even suffering from extinction. We live in a time of great hypocrisy, when people who explicitly intend to destroy all ...

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Chanukah and Prayer for IDF Soldiers

by R. Gil Student I. Praying for a Soldier We pray for a time when there will be no more war. We also pray that until that time arrives, our soldiers return from the battlefield to their families and their lives. Is this prayer allowed? On a theological level, does the prayer make sense? Every soldier has loved ones who ...

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Rethinking Revelation

I am now able to share my article published in the book, The Revelation at Sinai: What Does “Torah from Heaven” Mean?, co-edited by me, Yoram Hazony and Alex Sztuden. The article critiques the approaches of R. Louis Jacobs, R. Abraham J. Heschel and Rav Menachem Kasher, and offers a different, Maimonidean approach. Link to file or click on the ...

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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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