From The Jewish Thought Files

Does Torah Lead To Happiness

by R. Gil Student I. Happiness Isn’t Universal Many people feel that their lives are enriched by Judaism. Their rituals and holidays bring joy and meaning while deepening their marriage and family ties. The intellectual focus animates their conversations. The full Jewish life cycle, from cradle to grave, across the annual season, provides a structure that enables a happy life. ...

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Attitudes to Strangers

by R. Gil Student I. Strangers and Converts In the Daily Reyd last week, I linked to an article by Prof. Jeremiah Unterman about the concept of stranger in the Bible. However, I had not read it carefully before linking to it. Since I disagree with a certain part of the article, but not all of it, I feel the ...

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Why Be Godly?

by R. Gil Student In Maimonidean thought, and that of those who follow his lead, imitatio dei (imitating God) is a fundamental aspect of religious life. Even though we cannot describe God directly, we can see his actions in the Bible and the world as examples of how we can live godly lives. In the famous words of the Sifrei ...

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Historical Revelation

by R. Gil Student The wise son of the Haggadah asks: “What are the testimonies, the statutes and the laws which the Lord, our God, has commended you?” (Deut. 6:20). R. Zvi Kanotopsky (Rejoice In Your Festivals: Penetrating Insights Into Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, p. 62), a leading student of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik (link), explains in a 1952 sermon ...

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Is Ha Lachma Anya a Farce?

by R. Gil Student The Pesach Seder’s section of Magid – the storytelling part – begins with a declaration in Aramaic, the spoken Jewish language in ancient times. It states: “This is the bread of poverty (lachma anya) which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are needy ...

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What is Belief?

by R. Gil Student I. Belief and Knowledge Pesach is often called Chag Ha-Emunah, the holiday of faith or, more accurately, belief. But what is belief and how do we acquire it? A better understanding of belief can help us recognize its role in today’s complex world. Our starting point is a debate among Arabic translators with surprising implications. The ...

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What is Freedom?

by R. Gil Student I. Freedom of the Will Pesach is the holiday of freedom, when God redeemed us from slavery. But has that freedom continued with us, even after we subsequently were oppressed and enslaved? The answer goes to the very nature of freedom in the modern world and in contemporary insular Jewish communities. The center of the Western ...

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Can the OU Expel Synagogues From Orthodoxy?

by R. Gil Student Let’s say the OU were to expel a synagogue, or 4, what practical difference would it make? Insider politics within the Orthodox Jewish community is abuzz with discussion of whether the Orthodox Union (OU) will expel four member synagogues that have hired women clergy. This debate misses the essential nature and the very structure of the Orthodox community ...

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Finding Meaning In Jewish Texts

by R. Gil Student This is the story of the making of the book, “Search Engine: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts.” I don’t normally talk about myself but I find it hard to refuse a request from my good friend, Alan Jay Gerber. In 2004, I started a blog on a whim. I saw a Conservative Jew offer a halachic analysis on ...

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Is Stand-Up Comedy Kosher?

by R. Gil Student The question of stand-up comedy’s propriety comes from the same source as its benefits. Humor, we are told, is the best medicine. It relieves stress, spreads joy and serves as a break from our busy lives. At its best, it can also serve as social commentary and political criticism, sometimes sparking positive change. In theory, comedy ...

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