Musings

Against Change: Organs in French Shuls

by R. Gil Student I. The View From Turkey In 1856, France’s Chief Rabbi Salomon Ulman presided over a gathering of rabbis to discuss synagogue reforms. The conference’s conclusions include changing the prayer services to reduce the number of liturgical poems (piyutim) and permitting the use of an organ in synagogue played by a gentile on Shabbos. In Germany, these ...

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The Argument From Jewish History

by R. Gil Student I. Jewish History For his fourth and final “rational approach to God’s existence,” Rav Lawrence Kelemen, in his Permission to Believe, utilizes the argument from Jewish history. In my opinion, this is the most convincing argument for God’s existence and the most powerful, because it applies not just to some vague all-powerful being but to the ...

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Umbrellas on Shabbos

by R. Gil Student I. Umbrellas and Precedents The status of new technologies are often determined by the first major authorities to rule. Practices harden quickly and institutional positions, once set, change only with difficulty. This conservative tendency preserves socio-religious boundaries but also favors early movers. The use of umbrellas on Shabbos, universally forbidden in the Orthodox Jewish community, is ...

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Before Reb Zusia

by R. Gil Student I. Being Measured Against Others Over a decade ago, I challenged the eighteenth century Chasidic scholar Reb Zusia of Hanipol‘s famous last words. On his deathbed, he said that he wasn’t worried that the heavenly court would ask why he wasn’t like Moshe, because he could answer that he lacked Moshe’s abilities. But he was worried ...

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The Missing 160 Years

by R. Gil Student A number of years ago, my friend Mitchell First published a book, Jewish History in Conflict, describing rabbinic responses to the disagreement between rabbinic chronology in Seder Olam and that which emerges from Greek historians (and other sources). Depending on how you look at it, there are approximately 160 years missing from rabbinic history, mainly during ...

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