From The Jewish Thought Files

Atonement for the Deceased

by R. Gil Student Our time in this world is limited. We strive to do all the good we can and avoid doing wrong. When we sometimes misstep, we try to do teshuvah and atone for our misdeeds. The time for doing mitzvos ends with our passing, at least on a basic level. Is that also the end for our ...

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Does God Fool Us?

by R. Gil Student I. Misleading Messages One of the approaches to respond to the biblical challenge of the age of the universe is the theory that the world was created fully grown, so to speak. Light was already traveling through space, animal remains had already been encased in the earth, trees already had rings implying age, etc. “All of ...

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Schrodinger’s Kiddush Hashem

by R. Gil Student We like to think that a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification or glorification of God’s name, is perfectly good. It is the ultimate expression of religious virtue. In reality, this is not the case and common sense confirms that. Not only is the delineation between Kiddush Hashem and Chillul Hashem blurred, the distinction itself does not hold ...

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The Thirteen Principles of Faith: Chumra or Kula?

by R. Gil Student I. Fundamental Beliefs In today’s conversations, acceptable Jewish beliefs are generally defined by Rambam’s thirteen fundamental principles of faith that he lists in his commentary to the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1). Was that always the case? In a relatively recent book, Ani Ma’amin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth, and the Thirteen Principles of Faith, Rabbi Prof. Joshua Berman ...

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Are Stories Any Good?

by R. Gil Student I. Learning From Stories Judaism thrives on stories that inspire and educate. The Talmud and Midrash contain many such stories, some about legal cases and others about interactions filled with important messages. The Talmud explicitly discusses how to use stories properly, which can inform how we consume information in other areas of our lives. For example, ...

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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 (See the source sheet for this essay) 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 ...

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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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