Musings

Long Biblical Lives

by R. Gil Student The biblical lists of generations include descriptions of very long lives. For example, Adam lived 930 years (Gen. 5:5), Noach 950 (9:29), and the longest — Mesushelach 969 (5:27). How do we relate to these descriptions of longevity, well beyond anything we can expect of human beings? Two approaches emerge from Medieval Jewish commentary. I. Theories ...

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When to Say Malei

by R. Gil Student I. Days Without Malei The Mishnah (Mo’ed Katan 27a) discusses when we eulogize someone before burial and when refrain from doing so. On days of communal happiness, a sad eulogy evokes feelings contrary to spirit of the day. Among those days are Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah and Purim. Later customs developed regarding lesser practices, such as the ...

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Stretching Halakhah For An Agunah

by R. Gil Student Extreme cases demand special treatment. The Sages of the Talmud recognized this and allowed otherwise invalid witnesses to testify on behalf of a classical agunah, a woman whose husband has disappeared (as opposed to today’s colloquial reference to a recalcitrant spouse). Defining the husband as deceased allows the agunah to remarry, freeing her from permanent captivity ...

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Appointing a Past Sinner

by R. Gil Student Is someone who sinned in his youth qualified to serve in a communal position, such as a pulpit rabbi? Can a ba’al teshuvah, someone who grew up non-observant, be appointed to a such a position? This question is particularly relevant given recent discussions about a US Supreme Court nominee. While I am not sure that halakhah ...

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Koheles and Political Struggle

by R. Gil Student Who wrote Koheles, the biblical book of Ecclesiastes? The traditional answer to the question of Koheles’ authorship is Shlomo HaMelech, King Solomon, who according to tradition wrote Shir HaShirim, Koheles and Mishlei (Koheles Rabbah 1:1), which were copied and finalized by Chizkiyahu and his counterparts (Bava Basra 15a). My question is not which person wrote Koheles, ...

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Inscrutable Verses

by R. Gil Student I. Ambiguous Words The Torah’s many difficult verses are subject to extensive debate among commentaries. However, according to one Talmudic opinion, five passages are closed to conclusive explanation. Their ultimate meaning cannot be determined. This troubling view is compounded in multiple ways: Can any verse’s explanation be conclusively decided? The plethora of commentaries seems to indicate ...

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