Musings

The Heretic’s Sefer

by R. Gil Student I. The Heretic’s Torah The Gemara (Gittin 45b) says that we must burn a Torah scroll written by a heretic. In contrast, if a gentile wrote a Torah, then we either bury it (put it into genizah) or burn it, depending on whether or not we assume his intentions are for idolatry or heresy. The above ...

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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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When the Chazzan Shleps

by R. Gil Student I. Chazzanim Shlep Rabbinic literature is full of rabbis complaining about chazzanim (cantors) who sing too much, whether to enhance the prayers from their perspective or to show off their voices. Sometimes chazzanim sing the words at a steady pace. Other times they lengthen words in tune or sing tunes in between words. There is a ...

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The Shaving of a Ba’al Teshuvah

by R. Gil Student During many eras in Jewish history, Jews converted to other religions, whether due to physical, financial or social pressure or otherwise. Many of these wayward Jews returned to the Jewish community, sometimes after escaping the country. While a Jew who sins remains Jewish (Sanhedrin 44a), he might still have to undergo a return ritual in order ...

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Do You Need A Rabbi For A Wedding?

by R. Gil Student I. What A Rabbi Does Most of us have been to enough Jewish weddings that we know how they work. We can easily officiate. Even without a big crowd, all a man has to do is give a woman a ring in front of two witnesses and say the “harei at” formula. Who needs a rabbi? ...

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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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Shavuos Early Shacharis

by R. Gil Student I. Learning Torah All Night It is common practice today for men to stay up all night learning Torah the first night of Shavuos. It is not clear to me when this custom originated but it began spreading broadly in the 16th century and became standard practice in the 17th century. Rav Avraham Gombiner (17th cen., ...

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Honor and Family Conflicts

by R. Gil Student Honor is best given rather than received. We are required to honor Torah scholars, older family members, and the elderly in general. However, this becomes complicated when we face conflicting priorities. When faced to choose between two or more family members, whose honor comes first? When dealing with family situations, halakhah offers guidelines although you always ...

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Selling Mitzvos

by R. Gil Student I. Holy Profits People are motivated to do good for many reasons, among them — but hopefully not primary — is the promise of divine reward. Can that reward be sold so that a poor, righteous person can support his family? In particular, there is a concept of a Yissachar/Zevulun partnership in which one party (Zevulun) ...

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