Musings

Why Do So Many People Not Sleep In A Sukkah?

by R. Gil Student Maseches Sukkah holds a special place in my heart as it is the first tractate I completed. It is clear from this masechta (e.g. Sukkah 20b and 26a) that men are commanded to sleep in a sukkah during the yom tov of Sukkos. And yet, so many frum Jews today do not. How are we to understand this disconnect between the texts we study and the contemporary practice ...

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Alternative to Suffering

by R. Gil Student Earlier, we discussed the need for suffering in order to complete the atonement for several sins (link). However, commentators suggest an alternative that bypasses the suffering. I would like to explore the mechanism for such a path of repentance. As mentioned, the Talmud (Yoma 86a) divides sins into four categories: 1) Violating a positive commandment – ...

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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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Is Philosophy Kosher?

by R. Gil Student Many people are familiar with the long-standing debate about the propriety of a Torah Jew studying philosophy. Multiple times in the Middle Ages, rabbis debated the permissibility of studying philosophy including Rambam’s classic Moreh Nevukhim. As a compromise, in 1305 Rashba issued a ban on studying philosophy before the age of 25, implying at least some ...

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Texts: The Akedah’s Message

In his article on LGBT and Halachah, Prof. Aaron Koller says that he doubts Akedas Yitzchak, the binding of Isaac (Gen. 22), is about sacrificing one’s family (literally or figuratively) for God’s plan. After all, he points out, in the end Avraham did not sacrifice Yitzchak. Prof Koller direct readers to his forthcoming book on the subject, which I have ...

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Does Tashlikh Make Sense?

by R. Gil Student I. Fixing Judaism On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, many have the custom of walking to a natural source of running water and reciting the Tashlikh prayers. The texts consist primarily of biblical passages, with many additional prayers added for the ambitious reciter. The name of the ceremony seems to come from ...

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When a Baby Dies

by R. Gil Student Few experiences hurt more than a child’s death. Parents naturally blame themselves at some point in the mourning process but they are not to blame. As we will see, even those few statement in the Talmud about parents’ responsibility (e.g. for failing to fulfill vows) are not taken by the commentators as literal culpability. God’s decision ...

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On Changing Judaism For LGBT

by R. Gil Student Anyone reading this probably knows someone gay. The explicit biblical prohibition against homosexual activity and the associated rabbinic prohibitions, including the rabbinic condemnation of gay marriage, are not abstract concepts. The heartbreak, alienation, depression and everything else that follows are the real repercussions felt by our friends and family. The theological challenge is not theoretical but ...

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Texts: Repentance From Character Traits and Heresy

Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein (d. 1908, Lithuania; Arukh Ha-Shulchan, Orach Chaim 602:4-5)) corrects the common misconception that repentance is only required for bad deeds. In fact, we must repent also for our bad character traits and for our heretical thoughts. In particular, in this time period so close to the arrival of the mashi’ach, heresy is growing. Unfortunately, the old ...

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Confessional Memoirs

by R. Gil Student We live in a time of first-person confessionals, when people openly publish their intimate thoughts, challenges and failures. Readers sympathize and cheer, as they peer into someone’s life and see both the frailty of humanity and its greatness in our ability to overcome obstacles. Is it proper for writers to reveal their failings in this way? ...

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