Musings

Shoveling Snow on Shabbos

by R. Gil Student Since we recently experienced a significant snowfall, it is worthwhile to review some of the ideas of snow removal on Shabbos. First and foremost, people need to be careful. If you have trouble walking, do not go outside if you think you might fall. I. Muktzah One issue is whether snow is muktzah, something which may not ...

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Foolish Inconsistencies

by R. Gil Student Life is messy. When the ideal system of halakhah is applied to real-life situations, with all their complexities, disputes often emerge. Debates often spill over from one area to another, when a strict ruling here leads directly to a lenient ruling elsewhere. Requiring a large minimum amount for eating matzah on Pesach also allows for avoiding reciting the ...

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Failure to Sin

by R. Gil Student I. The Problem of a Failed Sin We all fail at some point in our lives. Hopefully we can learn from those experiences and turn them into long-term successes. But what happens when the failure is a good thing? If someone attempts to sin but finds his efforts thwarted, is he lucky or does he still ...

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Delayed Burial Redux

by R. Gil Student Moses Mendelssohn and Rav Ya’akov Emden debated privately a late eighteenth century law about burial. The conversation continued for more than a century. The full story of this extended debate has yet to be explored. I. Original Debate In 1772, Duke Friedrich of Mecklenburg-Schwerin enacted a law requiring a three-day delay to burial in order to ...

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Burial Plot Complications

by R. Gil Student I. Burial Conflict Life and death, past and future, come together in the cemetery. Families visit to respect and remember those who have gone. Burial plot placement within the cemetery can grow complicated as family life gets complicated. A frequent question arises when a spouse remarries after a death. After 120 years, should the woman be ...

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Final Rest

by R. Gil Student Death rites are widely observed in any religion, as people look to tradition for guidance in that confusing time following a loss. Judaism demands a simple burial in the ground. However, often out of ignorance, many Jews opt for cremation. This is certainly contrary to Jewish practice. The Tur (Yoreh De’ah 362) and Shulchan Arukh (ad loc., par. 1) explicitly require burial ...

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Waging War on Shabbos

by R. Gil Student The book of Maccabees (1:2:31-41) tells the story of how the Hasmoneans originally refused to wage war on Shabbos and were slaughtered. After that, Matisyahu ruled that they must fight back on Shabbos. This account is repeated by Josephus (Antiquities 12:276). Prof. Louis Feldman (Jew & Gentile in the Ancient World, pp. 160-161) lists other ancient ...

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Chanukah and Community

by R. Gil Student I. Whose Oil? Around 150 years ago, a Warsaw rabbi attempted to introduce a new chumra, a stringency regarding Chanukah lights. The reason for rejecting his proposal offers insight into the nature of family and community. In his Talmudic commentary Zeikher Yehosef (Warsaw, 1859; Shabbos 20b), Rav Yehosef Zechariah Stern of Shavel records a question sent ...

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Holiday Parties

by R. Gil Student I’ve often heard rabbis speak about office holiday parties as if they are obviously and unequivocally forbidden and it’s troubled me. I’m not quite sure what the big deal is but I’m also not certain that all rabbis understand the varying circumstances. For some people, missing a holiday has no career impact. For others, it might. ...

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Chanukah Lights: How Long?

by R. Gil Student Often, when social circumstances change significantly from the past, some people automatically assume that Jewish law must change. Others summarily dismiss the suggestion that the law will ever change. Both approaches are incorrect. Rather, these matters require careful and sensitive analysis by the leading scholars to determine the nature of the law and whether the change ...

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