From The Jewish Thought Files

The New Ethic of Pleasure and Its Unintended Consequences

by R. Gil Student In studying the commentary surrounding the biblical passage of forbidden marriages (Lev. 18), I was struck by a statement repeated by multiple commentators that rings hollow today. This got me thinking about why many would find it unacceptable. I arrived at a surprising explanation that combines modern history and theology. I. Forbidden Relations Medieval commentators debate ...

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Can Judaism Save Capitalism?

by R. Gil Student Eric Cohen’s impressive argument for a uniquely Jewish conservatism includes a long section on economics. Quoting R. Jonathan Sacks and Dr. Isaac Lifshitz, Cohen makes a case that emerges from Jewish sources for Free Market Capitalism. However, as Yuval Levin points out in his response to Cohen, Judaism is consistent with capitalism but does not necessarily ...

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Is the Yom Ha-Atzma’ut Liturgy for Everyone?

by R. Gil Student The additional prayers for Yom Ha-Atzma’ut are standard in Religious Zionist synagogues in Israel but much less so in America. I believe the reason reflects different ideological priorities outside of Israel, which can best be understood by examining the early documentation of the prayers’ origin. I. History The most comprehensive study of the origins of the ...

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Torah as a Value

by R. Gil Student The latest issue of Klal Perspectives addresses the role of the yeshiva graduate layman. How can he maintain his self esteem when he no longer follows his training to focus primarily on Torah study? The Mishnah says to make Torah study our primary activity (keva) and earning a living secondary. Very few can do that in ...

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Why Does God Test Us?

by R. Gil Student The notion that the all-knowing God needs to test us to determine whether we will follow His command is absurd. He knows the future and therefore gains nothing from the exercise. Yet the Torah discusses in multiple places God’s tests. For example, regarding the man (manna) that fell in the desert, God states: “So that I ...

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How Much Does Unity Cost?

by R. Gil Student This is an article in the upcoming issue of The Jewish Link of New Jersey. Members of the Jewish community rightly strive for unity. Orthodox, Reform, Conservative… we are all Jews yet we wear denominational labels that seem like a remnant of last century. We are good at getting along on the individual level; can’t we ...

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Fat, Tails and Intellectual Limits

by R. Gil Student In successfully defending rabbinic Judaism to a Karaite, R. Avraham Ibn Ezra makes an astonishing claim that actually undermines his entire argument. However, properly understood, his point is profound and still relevant nearly a thousand years later. I. Fat and Tails Karaites believe that the Torah forbids eating an animal’s tail. Their source is Lev. 3:9, ...

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Dishonoring the Rav

Nasty rabbinic politics are usually best quickly forgotten. However, sometimes it pays to remember just to keep in mind that the “good old days” weren’t always so good. The following attack was so over-the-top, so gratuitous and insulting, that it deserves remembering as a cautionary tale of how far beyond acceptable boundaries Torah students can veer in a misguided sense ...

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Purim, Jews and Monotheism

by R. Gil Student It is well known that the book of Esther does not contain God’s name explicitly, although tradition finds various hints to it. I think the following qualifies as an interesting hint. The book of Esther refers to the Jews as “Yehudim” (Judeans or Jews) rather than as “Yisrael” or “Bnei Yisrael,” and Mordechai is specifically called ...

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