From The Hashkafah Files

Are Ba’alei Teshuvah Really That Great?

by R. Gil Student I. Who Is Greater? Someone who overcomes sin and returns to full observance, a ba’al teshuvah, has utilized for good the greatest human trait — choice, free will. The Gemara (Berakhos 34b) praises a ba’al teshuvah as being even greater than a tzadik. Yet, this statement seems like too much praise. Can a tzadik, someone who ...

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Is The Akedah Ethical?

by R. Gil Student It seems that every few years, someone argues that the message of the Akedah, the binding and near-sacrifice of Yitzchak (Gen. 22), is something other than that we should follow God’s commands no matter how hard they may be. I don’t want to speculate why people offer these suggestions and instead take them at face value. ...

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Why Did the Holocaust Happen?

by R. Gil Student As I reviewed the weekly Torah reading for this past Shabbos, which includes the tokhechah (Deut. 28), I was taken back to my teenage years, reading it one Saturday or Sunday afternoon and seeing Jewish history in it. To a non-religious Jewish teenager in the 1980’s who grew up among survivors, the question of God in ...

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Podcast on Biblical Criticism

R. Dovid Bashevkin interviewed me for his 18forty website on the subject of Biblical Criticism. The full interview is below. I don’t like speaking unprepared because I am not quick on my feet and always make mistakes on some things (like I do when I go off-script in a prepared talk). So please listen charitably. Some corrections (running list as ...

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Why Does Teshuvah Work?

by R. Gil Student As Elul arrives and Rosh Hashanah approaches, we need to start thinking about teshuvah, about how we can build positively on all the events of tumultuous past year so that we are better Jews in the upcoming year. I would like to explore two different ways to think about teshuvah and the implications that arise from ...

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Must We Prove That God Exists?

by R. Gil Student In the past, we have discussed at length a number of suggested proofs, or arguments, for God’s existence. There is one more approach that I would like to explore. I. Skepticism Fails Rene Descartes started modern philosophy on its path by developing the methodology of radical skepticism. He devised a method of blank slate philosophy in ...

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Celebrating Tisha B’Av

by R. Gil Student I. The Happiness of Tisha B’Av Tisha B’Av contains contradictory themes that, when considered, completely changes our perspective about this day. The Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 659:4) says that we do not recite Tachanun prayers on Tisha B’Av because the day is considered a holiday. Since Tachanun is omitted on happy days, and Tisha B’Av is ...

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What I Learned From Coronavirus

My local community magazine, The Jewish Echo, asked its writers and staff for brief comments about what they learned from the pandemic. Here is my contribution: In times of crisis, our community unites in overwhelming acts of chessed. We excel at that. We naturally respond to a crisis by looking for opportunities to help others. As beautiful as this is, as much a ...

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Torah Is The Air We Breathe

by R. Gil Student Throughout the pandemic, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has singled out the Jewish community for violating “stay-at-home” orders. Now, although Jews still face severe restrictions on religious gatherings after months without access to synagogues, he has permitted protesters to gather in the thousands and break social distancing guidelines. Why do political protests deserve special ...

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Does A Virus Kill?

by R. Gil Student As we contend with the ongoing impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, we pray, we learn and we grow as Jews. In the past, people saw epidemics as divine punishment. However, nowadays we know the medical causes of the disease. We can trace the virus and, to some degree, its spread. If epidemiology explains the spread of ...

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