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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The Ontological Arguments

by R. Gil Student In the past, we have discussed a number of proofs, or more accurately arguments, for God’s existence. The Ontological Argument is the most unintuitive of the arguments, but perhaps the one most potentially viable as a proof. To most people, this will sound like word games. However, the challenge lies in determining precisely why or if ...

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Intellectual Freedom

by R. Gil Student I. Limits Freedom is the cornerstone of democracy and its absence is symptomatic of a dangerously coercive society. Yet too much liberty is damaging to that very freedom. Any country that wishes to thrive must place limits on individuals’ freedoms when it infringes on those of others, such as protecting one person’s property rights from his ...

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Is A Shabbos Siren Kosher?

by R. Gil Student Is a community or even an individual allowed to sound a siren alerting people that it is almost Shabbos? On the one hand, the noise certainly will bother someone who is sick or sleeping or simply not interested in the notification. Disturbing them might be forbidden. On the other hand, many people benefit from the siren. ...

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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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More On Philosophy

by R. Gil Student I. Philosophy From Tzfas Previously, we discussed the view of Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer (19th cen., Poland) about faith and philosophical inquiry. Essentially, he permitted inquiry into fundamental areas of belief as long as they are preceded by firm faith. If you already believe, then you can examine the arguments back and forth. In the worst ...

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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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The Other Jewish Death Penalty

by R. Gil Student Even those with only a passing knowledge of the Five Books of Moses recognize the death penalty applied to various sins. The Oral Torah, committed to writing centuries later, explains the procedural limitations to these penalties. However there is another Jewish penalty that was administered in one way or another into the early Modern Era. I. ...

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