Musings

Pidyon Shevuyim for Someone Guilty

by R. Gil Student Pidyonim Shevuyim means redeeming a captive, paying someone’s ransom. It is among the highest priorities of mitzvos. Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 252:1) is more important than feeding and clothing the poor. If we fail to redeem captives, we risk rampant death and assimilation of upstanding members of our community. Some people think pidyon shevuyim is a ...

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Forbidden Reading

by R. Gil Student Judaism’s flexibility becomes evident when new circumstances arise that require renewed analysis of the halakhic implications. While some may claim that halakhah is paralyzed, studies of specific cases disprove this evaluation. Even a Mishnaic prohibition can be set aside when warranted by changed circumstances. A case in point is the rabbinic prohibition to read near a ...

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Abortion and Jewish Public Policy

by R. Gil Student Rabbi Dr. Immanuel Jakobovits was the founder of the modern subject of Jewish medical ethics. His groundbreaking 1959 book, Jewish Medical Ethics, set the stage for a flourishing academic field incorporating Jewish law, contemporary medicine and ethics. His views on abortion, particularly regarding public policy, carry great weight. While he served as Chief Rabbi of Great ...

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Hearing Profanity

When someone uses profanity, he abuses the divine gift of speech, demonstrating a lack of refinement and self-control. Speaking profanity violates a biblical prohibition. There is reason to forbid not only saying profane words but even hearing them. The exact nature of this prohibition leads to practical implications. I. Close Your Ears The Gemara (Shabbos 33a) says, “Due to the ...

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The Intellectual Ba’al Teshuvah

by R. Gil Student I. Two Types of Teshuvah The modern Ba’al Teshuvah, someone from a non-religiously observant background who becomes religiously observant, does not fit well into classical categories. That leaves room for us to think about how this modern phenomenon is reflected in Jewish thought. The Gemara (Yoma 86b) quotes two sayings from Reish Lakish. In one, he ...

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The Halakhos of Shushing in Shul

by R. Gil Student I. Talking Destroys Shuls Talking in shul has been a problem since time immemorial. People who talk about idle matters during the prayer service not only show disrespect for the sanctity of the synagogue and the prayers, they disrupt the prayer experience of others. When there is talking, there is shushing — fellow congregants or synagogue ...

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Atonement and Suffering

by R. Gil Student I. Repentance and Suffering The Talmud (Yoma 86a) lists four types of sins and their corresponding methods for attaining atonement. A sin that would otherwise be punished by execution or kares (excision) requires repentance and Yom Kippur in order to delay punishment and suffering (yissurin) to achieve full atonement. In Medieval and early Modern times, this ...

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Violating Extra Shabbos

by R. Gil Student I. Creating Holiness Every week, we utilize one of the greatest human powers even though it has no tangible effect. God created the world for six days and then rested on the seventh. He then blessed and sanctified the seventh day on which He rested (Gen. 2:2-3). Every week, Jews rest on Shabbos, the seventh day, ...

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Canvas Sukkahs

by R. Gil Student It used to be quite popular to use a canvas sukkah although with the recent advent of sukkahs that are easier to put together, such as the modular sukkah and the “ease lock” sukkah, they are becoming less common. However, the concept of a canvas sukkah is actually centuries old and is specifically mentioned in the ...

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Drinking During Davening

I have seen myself and heard from others that over the past few years, there has been significant growth in the number of people who drink coffee or tea during the morning prayers. They recite a blessing on the drink before the prayers and continue sipping occasionally during the initial sections (including Pesukei De-Zimra) and after their silent Amidah. This ...

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