Last Names in Jewish Law

by R. Gil Student I. What’s In a Surname? Last names serve to identify an individual with greater specificity. There may be many men named Yosef ben Ya’akov in the marketplace but Yosef ben Ya’akov Schwartz is much less common. Should we use last names in Jewish ritual and particularly in Jewish legal documents like a kesubah and get? Initially, ...

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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 that ...

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Recycling Sheimos

by R. Gil Student What do you do with sacred books (sheimos) that become worn out or otherwise unneeded? Technology has given the question more weight. With so many newspapers, handouts and printouts, the question is more urgent now than ever. We recently discussed the custom in some place to respectfully burn them. This practice was forbidden by most authorities, ...

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Are Ba’alei Teshuvah Really That Great?

by R. Gil Student I. Who Is Greater? Someone who overcomes sin and returns to full observance, a ba’al teshuvah, has utilized for good the greatest human trait — choice, free will. The Gemara (Berakhos 34b) praises a ba’al teshuvah as being even greater than a tzadik. Yet, this statement seems like too much praise. Can a tzadik, someone who ...

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Three Sides of Rabbi Sacks

by R. Gil Student The passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks zt”l leaves thousands if not millions of people of faith — Orthodox and non-Orthodox, Jewish and gentile — mourning their teacher and source of inspiration. Everyone is unique but some of us, just a few, are irreplaceable. I doubt whether anyone can fill Rabbi Sacks’ oversized role in this ...

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Burning Sheimos

by R. Gil Student I. Of Making Many Books There Is No End New technology brings blessings at first but then curses follow. The printing press with movable type, invented around the year 1440 (5200 in the Jewish calendar), made religious texts more affordable and accessible. We see it being used for Torah purposes very quickly. For example, in his ...

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Newspapers on Shabbos

by R. Gil Student I. Orthodox Newspapers The powerful industry of print media is crumbling under the weight of the internet but no one seems to have informed the Orthodox Jewish community. Newsweek collapsed but Mishpacha Magazine is flourishing. The New York Times is deep in the red while the Jewish Link and the Jewish Press seem to be expanding ...

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Short Reviews of New Books on the Weekly Torah Portion

by R. Gil Student Reviews of a few recent books on the Torah portion, each of which I found rewarding in different ways. Genesis: A Parsha Companion by R. David Fohrman Rabbi David Fohrman is at the forefront of creative Torah teaching. Not only his interpretation are original but also his method of teaching, his use of technology and animation ...

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When Lashon Ha-Ra Goes Viral

by R. Gil Student I. Lashon Ha-Ra With Legs The idea that derogatory speech can go viral — a post, video or message can be forwarded thousands of times — should more than ever bring home to us the severity of our actions, just how much damage we can do with a few words. However, sometimes even this vivid illustration ...

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Spilling Wine

by R. Gil Student I. Spilling Wine Rav Moshe Isserles (Rema, 17th cen, Poland; Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 396:1) records a custom to spill Havdalah wine on the ground. He explains that the basis of this custom is the Gemara (Eruvin 65b) that any house in which wine is not spilled like water does not see blessing. We spill wine ...

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