Musings

Trapped By The Sermon

by R. Gil Student Many rabbis use the High Holiday sermons as an opportunity to showcase their talents and to showcase crucial ideas and themes. Considering the large crowd, rabbis may spend months preparing just the right combination of information and inspiration. In other words, it’s a big deal. Some congregants enjoy the sermon. Others flee the room. Some envy ...

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Saying Yes (And No) to Limmud

by R. Gil Student Limmud NY, a large gathering of a wide variety of Jews for studying Torah and Jewish topics, will take place next weekend and while there must be an Orthodox presence, there also needs to be an Orthodox refusal to attend. Recently (in 2014), British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis made news by attending a Limmud conference in ...

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Trapping a Pet

by R. Gil Student I. Pet Laws Pet owners face many religious laws regarding how they treat the animals in their care. On Shabbos, authorities debate whether people may carry pets or not, if the animals are considered muktzeh. Additionally, locking animals inside — trapping them — constitutes one of the 39 forbidden Shabbos labors. How do they apply to ...

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For Those Who Don’t Smell

by R. Gil Student I. No Smell After Shabbos ends, we recite havdalah on wine, a special candle and spices for smelling, each item with its own blessing plus a blessing on separation itself marking the transition from Shabbos to weekday. Technically, if you do not have sufficient flame or spices readily available, you can recite havdalah without them (Shulchan ...

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Do We Say God’s Name Correctly?

by R. Gil Student I. God’s Grammar In the early seventeenth century, scholars who were both grammarians and Kabbalists debated the proper way to pronounce God’s name. The Tetragrammaton (4-letter divine name) is spelled in the Bible but not recited, generally speaking. Instead, we replace that name with the word meaning “master”, commonly pronounced A-do-nai. The disagreement over pronunciation affects ...

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Everyone Needs A Yisro

My comments at my son‘s bar mitzvah party (a few weeks before his actual birthday in the summer): In an easily overlooked passage in Parashas Beha’alosecha, we find a message about the fundamental attitude toward a full Jewish life. In just four verses (Num. 10:29-32), we see Moshe trying to convince his father-in-law, Yisro, to stay with the Jews rather ...

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Is Leisure Kosher?

by R. Gil Student The Jewish attitude to leisure is complex and reveals a fundamental divide over religion. A few years ago, the New York Times reported that a Chasidic camp had ceased sports activities (link). If taken at face value, the article implies that Judaism, or at least the Satmar version, forbids any leisure activity. Is this an accurate ...

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The Heresy of the Ten Commandments

by R. Gil Student I. It’s All Good What is the most important passage in the Torah? The debate over a Shavuos custom teaches that answering this question opens the door to claims that other passages are unimportant. Consider Rambam’s statement in his eighth fundamental principle, based on Sanhedrin (99b), that the entire text of the Pentateuch was written by ...

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Be Normal

by R. Gil Student I. Average Often, we are rightly told to strive for greatness. But that doesn’t mean we have to act like we are better than everyone else. If anything, it means we must strive for normalcy in order to achieve greatness. Rav Ya’akov Kamenetsky used to say that it’s a mitzvah to be normal — of course, ...

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Romantic Robots

by R. Gil Student I. Inhuman Mate Japanese researchers continue making progress in producing lifelike robots that can engage in marital relations. As usual, technology continues to progress without consideration of ethics. From a Torah perspective, there are multiple reasons to oppose the use of these robots. On a marital level, these robots can be seen as spousal betrayal or ...

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