Musings

Giving Ma’aser In the Modern Economy

by R. Gil Student I. How Much Charity? The Torah obligates every Jew to give charity of at least one-third of a shekel (less than $10) a year and optimally a tenth or fifth of income, but the details surrounding this obligation might have surprising consequences in the modern economy, when people regularly owe money on mortgages and school debt. ...

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Expelling a Member from Shul

by R. Gil Student It is both a privilege and an obligation to belong to a shul. However, sometimes a community finds it necessary to expel a member. Under what conditions is it permissible to tell someone he is no longer welcome in shul? Surprisingly, even though this has been an issue for at least a thousand years (probably longer), ...

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Is an AI Posek Kosher?

by R. Gil Student I. AI as a Posek Everyone is talking about the implications of artificial intelligence (AI). While the current version of AI frequently gives laughably incorrect answers, it offers us a realistic idea of the possibility of a coherent technology that can think and reason independently. For Jews, one question this raises is whether AI can answer ...

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The Shaving of a Ba’al Teshuvah

by R. Gil Student During many eras in Jewish history, Jews converted to other religions, whether due to physical, financial or social pressure or otherwise. Many of these wayward Jews returned to the Jewish community, sometimes after escaping the country. While a Jew who sins remains Jewish (Sanhedrin 44a), he might still have to undergo a return ritual in order ...

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Is Sefaria Kosher?

by R. Gil Student I. Sefaria Controversy A minor controversy brewed recently when some people noticed that Sefaria provides readers a non-Orthodox Bible translation. This offers us an opportunity to have a long overdue discussion about what Sefaria is and is not, and how to use it properly (or not at all). But first, let us briefly explain what Sefaria ...

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Is “Jewish Matchmaking” Kosher?

by R. Gil Student I. Shadchan for the Masses There is a recent Netflix series about a real shadchan, matchmaker, who sets people up to date for marriage. This raises an interesting question about matchmaking ethics and halakhah. I have not seen the show and do not intend to see it. From what I have been told, while the shadchan ...

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When to Say Malei

by R. Gil Student I. Days Without Malei The Mishnah (Mo’ed Katan 27a) discusses when we eulogize someone before burial and when refrain from doing so. On days of communal happiness, a sad eulogy evokes feelings contrary to spirit of the day. Among those days are Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah and Purim. Later customs developed regarding lesser practices, such as the ...

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Eight Answers for Shavuos

by R. Gil Student Every holiday has its unique practices and spirit… and its own question. Rav Yerachmiel Zelcer became famous for his Sefer Ner Le-Me’ah on Chanukah, in which he offered 100 answers to what is commonly known as the Beis Yosef‘s question: Why are there eight days of Chanukah when the miracle was only seven days? He followed ...

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Mechutanim in Jewish Law

by R. Gil Student I. Fathers-in-Law There is a deep lesson in the fact that there is no English equivalent of the word “mechutanim.” Mechutanim are the parents of your son- or daughter-in-law (mechutan is the male part of the mechutanim). When your child marries, you gain not only a son or daughter but also a set of corresponding parents ...

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Marrying a Woman With Your Mother’s Name

by R. Gil Student I. Avoiding Similar Names It is hard to find a lifemate. Part of the so-called “Shidduch Crisis” is the limitations we impose on potential spouses, even among those within the same social circles. One of these limitations is a widespread custom, albeit not universally followed, of a man refraining from marrying a woman with the same ...

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