Musings

Wealth Tax in Jewish Law

by R. Gil Student There is talk in the U.S. about taxing the wealth of the super-rich. Without engaging in discussion about proper policy today, I would like to explore the concept of a wealth tax in the Jewish tradition. I. Jewish Wealth Tax Historically, Jewish communities in various times and places have had to tax their members. When Jewish ...

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An Apostate’s Son

by R. Gil Student I. The Hungarian Apostate With what name do you call to the Torah someone whose father abandoned Judaism? You do not want to mention the apostate’s name. Rav Yisrael Isserlein (15th cen., Austria; Terumas Ha-Deshen 1:21) quotes two opinions on whether to call the man by just his name alone or by his name and his ...

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Marriage and Free Will

by R. Gil Student The concept of “Bashert,” a person’s soulmate, warms the heart and plays into our notions of romance. The Gemara (Sotah 2a) says that forty days before the creation of a fetus, a divine voice calls out that the daughter of so-and-so is for so-and-so. It seems from this text that a man and woman are destined ...

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Deception and Justification

by R. Gil Student I. Deception Is Bad Was Ya’akov punished for deceiving his father, Yitzchak, in obtaining the firstborn’s blessing? The story, as told in Gen. 27, offers no judgment but many modern commentators, focused solely on the simple meaning (peshat), insist that Lavan’s subsequent deception of Ya’akov served as punishment for the earlier trickery. Additionally, Ya’akov’s sons’ sale ...

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Rabbi Sacks’ Theology of the Stranger: A Halakhic Defense

by R. Gil Student Rabbi Jonathan Sacks zt”l opened up Jewish thought to a broader audience with his prolific writing and speaking about ideas in ways that were both eloquent and accessible. To a surprising degree, he was able to transcend denominational, ethnic and religious communities without sacrificing his traditional Orthodox Jewish beliefs. However, some people contend that in his ...

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Pidyon Shevuyim for Someone Guilty

by R. Gil Student Pidyonim Shevuyim means redeeming a captive, paying someone’s ransom. It is among the highest priorities of mitzvos. Shulchan Arukh (Yoreh De’ah 252:1) is more important than feeding and clothing the poor. If we fail to redeem captives, we risk rampant death and assimilation of upstanding members of our community. Some people think pidyon shevuyim is a ...

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Forbidden Reading

by R. Gil Student Judaism’s flexibility becomes evident when new circumstances arise that require renewed analysis of the halakhic implications. While some may claim that halakhah is paralyzed, studies of specific cases disprove this evaluation. Even a Mishnaic prohibition can be set aside when warranted by changed circumstances. A case in point is the rabbinic prohibition to read near a ...

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Abortion and Jewish Public Policy

by R. Gil Student Rabbi Dr. Immanuel Jakobovits was the founder of the modern subject of Jewish medical ethics. His groundbreaking 1959 book, Jewish Medical Ethics, set the stage for a flourishing academic field incorporating Jewish law, contemporary medicine and ethics. His views on abortion, particularly regarding public policy, carry great weight. While he served as Chief Rabbi of Great ...

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Hearing Profanity

When someone uses profanity, he abuses the divine gift of speech, demonstrating a lack of refinement and self-control. Speaking profanity violates a biblical prohibition. There is reason to forbid not only saying profane words but even hearing them. The exact nature of this prohibition leads to practical implications. I. Close Your Ears The Gemara (Shabbos 33a) says, “Due to the ...

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The Intellectual Ba’al Teshuvah

by R. Gil Student I. Two Types of Teshuvah The modern Ba’al Teshuvah, someone from a non-religiously observant background who becomes religiously observant, does not fit well into classical categories. That leaves room for us to think about how this modern phenomenon is reflected in Jewish thought. The Gemara (Yoma 86b) quotes two sayings from Reish Lakish. In one, he ...

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