From The Jewish Thought Files

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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Marriage and Free Will

by R. Gil Student The concept of “Bashert,” a person’s soulmate, warms the heart and plays into our notions of romance. The Gemara (Sotah 2a) says that forty days before the creation of a fetus, a divine voice calls out that the daughter of so-and-so is for so-and-so. It seems from this text that a man and woman are destined ...

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Deception and Justification

by R. Gil Student I. Deception Is Bad Was Ya’akov punished for deceiving his father, Yitzchak, in obtaining the firstborn’s blessing? The story, as told in Gen. 27, offers no judgment but many modern commentators, focused solely on the simple meaning (peshat), insist that Lavan’s subsequent deception of Ya’akov served as punishment for the earlier trickery. Additionally, Ya’akov’s sons’ sale ...

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Rabbi Sacks’ Theology of the Stranger: A Halakhic Defense

by R. Gil Student Rabbi Jonathan Sacks zt”l opened up Jewish thought to a broader audience with his prolific writing and speaking about ideas in ways that were both eloquent and accessible. To a surprising degree, he was able to transcend denominational, ethnic and religious communities without sacrificing his traditional Orthodox Jewish beliefs. However, some people contend that in his ...

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The Intellectual Ba’al Teshuvah

by R. Gil Student I. Two Types of Teshuvah The modern Ba’al Teshuvah, someone from a non-religiously observant background who becomes religiously observant, does not fit well into classical categories. That leaves room for us to think about how this modern phenomenon is reflected in Jewish thought. The Gemara (Yoma 86b) quotes two sayings from Reish Lakish. In one, he ...

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Atonement and Suffering

by R. Gil Student I. Repentance and Suffering The Talmud (Yoma 86a) lists four types of sins and their corresponding methods for attaining atonement. A sin that would otherwise be punished by execution or kares (excision) requires repentance and Yom Kippur in order to delay punishment and suffering (yissurin) to achieve full atonement. In Medieval and early Modern times, this ...

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Moshe and Modern Technology

by R. Gil Student Did Moshe know everything, including science and technology? Was he capable of building spaceships and nuclear missiles? Among Torah scholars, there seem to be two answers to those questions. We find those answers in discussions of what was once a new technology, the printing press. I. Printing on the Efod Rav David Ha-Levi Segal (17th cen., ...

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Can Two People Be One?

by R. Gil Student I. Equating Personalities In the late sixteenth century, R. Azariah de Rossi shook the scholarly Jewish world by subjecting Talmudic historical statements to critical scrutiny. His questioning nearly led to his excommunication but his writings found approval by moderate traditionalists centuries later. While examining rabbinic chronology of the Persian monarchy, R. Azariah (Me’or Einayim, Imrei Binah, ...

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