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The Judge’s Obligation To Be Brave

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Devarim I fear we sometimes lose sight of the vital role of an independent judiciary in any polity, the need for people outside the system, with no stake in outcomes other than right and wrong. Always, there will be people who resent those judges, because they end up on the wrong side of them. And ...

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Not to Kill a Criminal Until S/he Has a Trial

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Mas’ei It would be easy to assume a trial is about verifying someone has committed the crime, and could therefore be dispensed with when it is clear s/he has in fact done the deed. I once knew a dedicated criminal defense attorney, since deceased, who argued that many defendants who had “done the crime” were ...

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Not To Treat Oaths Lightly

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Matot Double parsha all over the world this week, so two brief mitzvot. For Matot, we have Rambam’s Prohibition 157, based on Bamidbar 30;3, lo yachel devaro, he shall not break his word. The verse is discussing a neder, a vow, meaning the “word” a Jew may not break does not have to be formalized with any kind of swearing. Rather, the Jew might ...

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The Daily Sacrifice

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Pinchas In my plausibly faulty memory, my Rosh Yeshiva at Gush, R. Amital, zt”l, was fond of a statement found in the introduction to Ein Ya’akov. While many know R. Akiva’s called ve-ahavta le-re’akha kamokha, you shall love your neighbor as yourself, a kelal gadol ba-Torah, a great principle of the Torah, the author of Ein Ya’akov knew a version where R. Shim’on ...

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Not To Curse Another Jew Using God’s Name

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Balak No mitzvot in Sefer HaChinukh’s count for Balak, so we turn to R. Achai Gaon’s She’iltot, where he says Jews are commanded not to curse fellow Jews using God’s Name. The verse is VaYikra 19;14, you may not curse a deaf person (expanded to all Jews, as we will see). She’iltot adds one more interesting piece, the prohibition applies equally to cursing oneself [similar ...

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The Rules of the Para Aduma Water

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Chukkat The full details of this week’s mitzvah would take too much space for this forum; besides, the way Rambam and Sefer HaChinukh present it seems to me more eye-catching. I know it is what caught my eye, for what that’s worth. A Mitzvah Rambam Leaves Ambiguous Rambam, Obligation 108, calls the mitzvah “the torah we were taught regarding the”para aduma waters, ...

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The Prohibition on a Non-Kohen Serving in the Temple

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Korach Many Temple services may be performed only by kohanim (but not all, as we will see). Rather than codify this rule with an aseh, a commandment, Rambam in Prohibition 70 points out the Torah tells us a zar, a non-kohen, who performs a service special to the kohanim, becomes liable for mitta bidei shamayim, death at the hands of Heaven. Sifrei cites 18;4 ...

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The Mitzvah of Tzitzit

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Shelach Last week, we saw a Biblical mitzvah somewhat “lost” because of a rabbinic one; this week, we turn to a mitzvah with more cache, more hold on the Jewish religious sensibility, than the Torah itself necessarily assigns it. Adding Strings to Our Clothes The basic mitzvah, Rambam tells us in Obligation 14 (perhaps a ...

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The Mitzvah to Blow the Trumpets in the Temple and Times of Trouble

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Be-Ha’alotekha Rambam’s Obligation 59 interests me because it has been rendered almost invisible by a rabbinic practice, to establish fast days in times of trouble. He opens Hilkhot Ta’aniyot with our mitzvah, the obligation to blow silver trumpets as part of calling out to God in the face of distress [Rambam there full-throatedly insists we should see ...

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The Kohanim’s Blessing

by R. Gidon Rothstein Parshat Naso We pretty much all know the basic routine for the priestly blessing (which we often call duchanen, I think because it usually involved kohanim ascending to a platform in front of the congregation; it is also called nesi’at kappayim, lifting of the hands, because they raise their hands over their heads when saying it), and it all seems to be de-oraita. ...

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