From The Hashkafah Files

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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Who Has to Work?

by R. Gil Student One of the iconic debates of the Talmud is about how — or whether — to balance earning a living with learning Torah. However, this debate contradicts an earlier discussion. The resolution of this contradiction yields differing outcomes on the proper balance of work and study. I. Who Must Gather Crops? In Berakhos (35b), R. Yishmael ...

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What Was in the Heavenly Torah?

by R. Gil Student How and when was the Torah composed? In a footnote to an addendum to volume 23 of Torah Shelemah (p. 146), Rav Menachem Kasher writes that he has in front of him a 440-page book published in 1965 that addresses at length the rabbinic passages on this subject. Without question, he is referring to Prof. Abraham ...

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Shach’s Dayenu Pilpul

Summarized and adapted by R. Gil Student Rav Shabsi Kohen, author of the brilliant Sifsei Kohen on parts of Shulchan Aruch and commonly known as “the Shach,” lived in Vilna and Czech in the 17th century. Among the works he wrote during his short life (he died at the age of 41) is a pilpulistic commentary on the Haggadah passage ...

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Holy Money

by R. Gil Student I. Holy Money What could be more mundane than money? It is merely a convenient method of accomplishing everyday tasks. Yet the Torah calls it holy, implying one of two dueling concepts of sanctity. The method with which Moshe conducted the desert census was having each person contribute half a shekel and then counting the resulting ...

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Fighting Fire With Fire

by R. Gil Student We believe in fighting honorably in the rare, unfortunate case in which fighting is necessary. But does that mean that we have to be at a disadvantage? If our enemy fights with sneaky tactics, do we have to be his victim? I. Moving the Boat The Gemara (Shabbos 81b) tells the story that once Rav Chisda ...

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Does God Need Us?

by R. Gil Student I. God Has No Needs On first thought, it seems outrageous to suggest that God would need us. In order to need something you have to lack something. If God needs something, that would mean his perfection is incomplete. Therefore, God cannot need anything. All of His actions must be done out of His own will ...

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Judaism’s Balance of Its Financial Burden

On the one hand, never before have Jews been as prosperous as they are now. Both the vast majority of individuals and the community in general are currently blessed with wealth well beyond what we have experienced in history. On the other hand, never before have we felt this kind of financial burden to participate in the Jewish community. Most ...

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Bringing Sacrifices Today

by R. Gil Student Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer (19th cen., Poland) famously proposed bringing sacrifices today (i.e., the 1860’s) even though there is no Temple standing. He brilliantly argues in his 1862 book, Derishas Tziyon, that there is no need for a Temple in order to bring sacrifices. He was roundly critiqued by the greatest scholars of his day, but ...

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Were the Patriarchs Disabled?

by R. Gil Student Over the past few decades, there has been a trend among Bible scholars to try to find flaws in the biblical heroes. There is much to say about the impetus for this trend and its methodological assumptions. I would like to explore here one aspect of this issue. Is there, within traditional Judaism, a theological problem ...

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