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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Gil Student’

Limmud – Yes or No?

Friday, February 7th, 2014

He makes a good argument but falls a bit short. I must admit, however, that in a recent article in The Jewish Press, Rabbi Gil Student makes some very valid observations – both pro and con about Limmud.

Limmud, one may recall is an interdenominational event whereby rabbis from all denominations are invited to lecture the Jewish public on matters of Torah and Jewish interest. The one held in London was attended by British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. For which he was severely criticized by the right.

The criticism was based on the proposition that joining with non Orthodox movements in any forum, especially if it is in any theological context will give the false impression of legitimizing theologies that are anathema to Orthodoxy. This was universally condemned by all segments of Orthdodxy, including Rav Soloveitchik.

Limmud is certainly a theological event. But I have argued that Rabbi Mirvis was not there in any joint context with them and therefore not seen as endorsing anything other that the Orthodox point of view. To the best of my knowledge there was no panel or joint appearance of Rabbi Mirvis with heterodox rabbis. He was there to teach. And teach he did to real acclaim by all who witnessed it, including those of other denominations.

However, Gil suggests a problem I hadn’t thought of which I think has merit. The idea that if a high profile rabbi is there, it is OK for any Orthodox Jew to attend. Which would mean that they would be exposed to ideas they are rarely if ever exposed to – and ill prepared to deal with from an Orthodox perspective. Here is how Gil put’s it:

If the Orthodox leadership permits attendance at Limmud, it will effectively be permitting Orthodox Jews to study Judaism under non-Orthodox teachers. It will be encouraging the spread of heresy among the faithful. Of course, many Orthodox Jews will be able to intellectually deflect these foreign assumptions and beliefs, perhaps even growing stronger from the challenge. But ideas have wings; they excite and inspire. This is especially true when the intellectual match is uneven, when the non-Orthodox best and brightest are teaching the Orthodox not-so-best and not-so-brightest. There is a risk, a very real risk, that some Orthodox Jews will become enchanted by the passionate spokespeople of non-Orthodox Judaism.

I think he’s right and this is a matter of real concern. But as Gil also points out, the positive impact Rabbi Mirvis made has ‘wings’ too. I would go so far as to say he made a Kiddush Hasehm with his appearance:

Many non-Orthodox Jews have never met a refined and intelligent Orthodox Jew. They expect Orthodox Jews to be socially and intellectually backward. But the impact of interaction with Orthodox Jews has brought many people to Orthodoxy, including non-Orthodox rabbis. This is particularly true when an Orthodox scholar teaches, offering an intelligent and compelling worldview. There is great outreach opportunity at Limmud. An Orthodox rabbi has the unique opportunity to teach an audience thirsty for knowledge and often unaware of basic traditional texts and concepts.

Is it worth taking the chance that ‘some of our own’ may leave the fold in order to gain those who may come into the fold? That is the $64,000 dollar question.

Gil suggests that a solution to this might be for prominent rabbis not to attend and thus not be a drawing card for observant Jews who are ill prepared and thereby vulnerable to the ‘enchantment’ of heretical thought presented by charismatic speakers.

If a ‘second tier’ rabbi does the teaching, that risk will be diminished and the goal of attracting Jews with little or no background will still have its impact.

A Biblical Guide To Internet Behavior

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

The Internet is a medium that has made its way in its short existence all the way to the center of contemporary life. Many of our daily tasks are now tied to it, and will be more so in the future.

Like all tools, particularly the most powerful, the Internet can be used for tremendous good – as well as the opposite. Torah wisdom can provide guidance on proper usage of this new technology. When explained homiletically, Tehillim 34 offers profound insight into some of the key attitudes necessary to responsibly use the Internet. Recited every Shabbos morning, this chapter consists of meditations on attaining the truly good life.

Avoid Bad and Do Good

A key principle of achieving a good life is avoiding bad, sur me’ra (v. 15). Regarding the Internet, this means utilizing strategies to avoid improper websites. It requires using filters and image- and ad-blockers as necessary. It also means making responsible choices about which types of websites to visit.

After avoiding bad, King David tells us to do good (aseh tov). First you must install your filter and other similar tools. Only after that are you ready to use the Internet for positive purposes. And that is what you must do. Make the Internet a tool for your personal growth. Choose a Torah website as your home page; assign a religiously themed picture as your background. The more you use your Internet devices for holy purposes, the harder it will be for you to misuse them.

No Gossip and Judge Favorably

Perhaps the most famous verse in this psalm is King David’s admonition to avoid defamatory speech (netzor leshoncha me’ra, v. 14). On the Internet you must studiously avoid spreading or consuming lashon hara. This is no easy task, just as it is difficult in conversation with friends. But the laws of lashon hara apply to all media, particularly in the public arena of the Internet. Think before you post. Any form of transmitting damaging information falls under this rule.

We know but often neglect the obligation to judge others favorably. When interacting with other people, whether online or off, always strive to see the positive (bakesh shalom, v. 15). Read news stories and other reports critically, trying to justify the subject’s actions. Fight against the cynicism that tries to dominate our community, particularly online. Remember that you rarely get the full story, even years after the fact.

Be Yourself and Live Life

King David calls out: Mi ha’ish, who is the person? (v. 13) Don’t let people online ask that about you. Anonymity is a key behavior that reduces inhibitions online, allowing for multiple types of unruly activity. Many wrongly think that they do not have to answer for their behavior if they can hide their identity. Avoid this temptation by using your real name or at least maintaining a consistent pseudonym. Commit to behaving online solely in ways that do not embarrass you.

The Internet is a wonderful tool for life but it is a pale substitute. You have to want real life (he’chafetz chaim), thriving relationships with friends, family and your spouse (v. 13). You have to love the good in life (ohev yamim liros tov). If you disappear all day and night into your screen, you will neglect your loved ones who will in turn abandon you. As with other good things in life, you must use the Internet in moderation. If you have trouble cutting back on your screen time, you must speak with a therapist about how to reduce your dependency on technology.

Don’t Give Up

The psalm compares God’s treatment of the righteous and those who sin. “They cried and the Lord heard…” (v. 18). Unlike Rashi, Ibn Ezra and R. Donash ben Livrat explain that the sinners of the prior verse (those who do bad – “oseh ra”) are the ones who call out to God. The psalm earlier taught that God answers the prayers of the righteous. Our verse tells us something more radical: God cares deeply about those who do wrong. When they call out to Him, when they are ready to change their ways, God is waiting to help them return. He will save them.

Rethinking My Social Connections

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

Internet usage is something many of us have been thinking about in this post-Asifa world. I am not writing this to debate the effectiveness of Asifa-type events but only to suggest that since the Citi Field Asifa people aren’t as reluctant to talk about the Internet as they use to be. We are discussing, in a positive manner, Internet safety while projects such as the Internet Shiur series created by Rabbi Gil Student and Dovid Teitelbaum are educating and informing people about Internet use.

While I am not as active as some people, I do spend time online. I am told I have a “web presence” and my digital footprint does include blogs, Facebook, and a little Twitter. I have decided, however, that I need to become less socially connected.

Over the past number of weeks I have heard and read several ideas I believe are worth sharing.

Rav Moshe Weinberger (Congregation Aish Kodesh, Woodmere, New York) has mentioned in several of his shiurim over the years that one of the greatest problems facing us today is the effect of shallowness and depression. He says, quoting the author of Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, that atzilus (depression or sadness) is really the feeling of not being connected to the Makor Chaim, the true source of life.

When Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein (founder and director of Ohr Naava) spoke at the Asifa for the Five Towns, he described the Internet as being an artificial world that becomes attractive because we don’t find meaning in this world.

Most recently I heard Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum (founder and director of Jewish Media Resources) address a group in Chicago and he mentioned that in a study of high school students in Israel more than half the respondents said their goal in life was “to be famous.” He observed that one of the attractions of Facebook and Twitter is that we want people to pay attention and notice us.

His words hit home. Most of my own activity on Facebook wasn’t spent searching for people who needed Tehillim said on their behalf (Facebook happens to be a great way for people to let others know if and for whom tefillos are being requested) but rather to validate my own life. While I think there is value in social networking, connecting with old friends and sharing good news, I realized I was becoming a little too socially connected.

I decided to take action. The small steps I’ve taken so far are not original in any way but they do seem to be working for me. I deleted the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone (but not Facebook Messenger). Getting rid of those two apps has not only made me feel like less of an eved, a slave, to my phone, it has helped me reclaim the power of bechira, free will.

When I come home from work in the evening I have started putting my smartphone in “airplane” or “flight” mode, which turn off all wireless signals. I do this so that I am not distracted by my phone when I am with my family. After my kids go to sleep, I either turn my phone back on to look at my e-mails or I check the old fashioned way, on a computer. And I now only go onto Facebook every two or three days.

As the days get closer to Tisha B’Av and I mourn the loss of the place where Knesses Yisrael had the strongest connection with Hashem, I can’t help but think about the importance and the value of true connections.

Neil Harris lives in Chicago, where he works in the healthcare industry. When time allows he maintains a blog called Modern Uberdox at www.uberdox.blogspot.com.

Q & A: Internet Filters For The Orthodox Jew

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Editor’s Note: In light of all the attention that the recent Internet Asifa garnered, we thought it wise to offer this analysis on the subject by Rabbi Gil Student, founder of TorahMusings.com and former managing editor of OU Publications. Without a doubt, the Internet offers many wonderful opportunities, but it also presents substantial dangers for young and old alike. We believe Rabbi Student’s constructive advice and assistance will serve our readership well. The fact is that we can’t hide our heads in the sand; the Internet is often vital to our lives, especially in the work place, which is often Internet-related and dependent.

Internet Filters For The Orthodox Jew

I. Introduction

Filters are an important tool in responsibly using the Internet. Without a filter, someone browsing the web may accidentally stumble onto, or in a moment of weakness intentionally go to, objectionable websites which may contain any of the following: pornography, gambling, gaming, profanity, lashon hara, counter-religious ideas or pictures/videos objectionable to Orthodox Jews. A filter will prevent that access or at least make it more difficult. However, filters are totally useless without attendant computer security, which we will also briefly discuss. What follows are explanations and recommendations I put together and had reviewed by a techie.

II. Filtering Methods

There are three methods of filtering: time control, content filtering, and content control. Time control sets limits on the time Internet access is available. For example, you can allow it only between the hours of 8 and 9 p.m. or on Sundays from 3 to 5 p.m. This can help prevent overuse of the Internet and also ensure that people only access the Internet when others are likely to be awake and may walk into the room.

Content filtering blocks websites that are deemed objectionable. Black lists contain addresses for offensive websites that are blocked. These are generally compiled by a combination of algorithm and human evaluation. Often, filters allow you to add your own list of blocked sites (for example, you can decide to block SportsIllustrated.com). They also allow you to choose entire categories to block or allow, such as social networking.

In contrast, white lists contain addresses of permissible sites that a user adds to it. The rest of the Internet is blocked. Each website must be approved before passing through the filter.

Content control actively changes objectionable content on a website. It may block pictures or change profane words to a string of punctuation marks. Ad blocking software is an important example of content control.

Filters have to be smarter than just blocking URLs and must use a combination of methods to ensure that content that is supposed to be blocked actually is. To my knowledge, there is no way you can fully accomplish this, but you can get pretty close to airtight.

III. Filter Types

There are four types of filter structures for consumers: browser-side, client-side, router-side, and ISP-side. A browser-side filter is either a web browser or a browser add-on that limits your access to the web in any of the three methods discussed above. In order for these to be effective, users must have limited ability to install and uninstall add-ons and new programs. Otherwise, they can easily disable the filtering capabilities or install an unfiltered browser or other program that accesses the web.

A client-side filter is installed on a computer (or device) and limits all access to the web from that computer. These sometimes slow the computer down, but they are harder to deactivate than browser-side filters and regulate all programs on the computer.

An ISP-side filter limits the Internet access provided to a customer. If the ISP successfully blocks content, the customer cannot access it through any program, on any device. These filters require a special Internet provider that usually lacks the same scale of operation (and therefore cannot offer cheap prices) as the large, unfiltered Internet services.

A router-side filter also limits the Internet access received by a customer, including wireless connections at home. Unlike an ISP-side filter, the customer installs this. It is generally somewhat complex to install but more powerful than a browser-side or client-side filter.

IV. Activity Monitoring

Another function many filters provide is the ability to monitor online activity. There are three types of activities often monitored: website visits, search terms, and social network activity. The results can either be saved and available for an administrator to access (pull) or sent via e-mail to the administrator (push). The latter includes “buddy” monitoring, in which a user selects someone to receive a detailed list of online activity. Social network monitoring is particularly important for parents who wish to ensure that their children are not sharing information that should be kept private.

Can Rabbis Save The Jewish State?

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Israel is a Jewish country – but can it continue to be so when Judaism threatens to destroy the state?

The unfair longstanding attacks on Israel’s legitimacy are a permanent stain on the international community. For over 60 years, Israel has valiantly grown under hostile conditions while fighting lies and half-truths in the international arena. Israel suffers doubly, however, when its very essence, its Jewish character, supports its opponents’ narrative.

With this in mind, we must reluctantly examine the damage inflicted by a recent rabbinic pronouncement.

Over the past weeks, many rabbis in Israel have publicized halachic rulings forbidding Jews to rent or sell homes to non-Jews. Doing so, they argue, violates Torah prohibitions and causes the deterioration of Jewish neighborhoods. Jews move away from communities when gentiles – in this case, Arabs – move in, leaving neighborhoods and cities transitioning from Jewish to gentile majorities. This is halachically, socially and nationalistically unacceptable. To prevent this, the rabbis insist, Jews must refrain from renting or selling homes to non-Jews.

The halachic basis of these pronouncements is complex and debatable. In theory, gentiles living in Israel have the option of becoming a ger toshav (resident alien) and acquiring full citizen rights under the Torah (as opposed to Israeli citizenship, which is entirely different).

However, according to many authorities, technical reasons prevent anyone from becoming a ger toshav today. Others hold that these technical reasons can be bypassed. If authorities rule strictly, they create a dilemma for gentiles in Israel today. These Israeli citizens cannot rent or buy homes because they are not gerei toshav – but due to no fault of their own they can never attain that status. What are they to do?

The problem is that even discussing this issue in anything other than a theoretical context damages Israel on multiple levels. Yes, the halachic issues are worthy of serious exploration. But they must be seen as hilchisa dimeshicha, rules that will become relevant only in a messianic world. Any other perspective amounts to discrimination, an attitude that supports Israel’s opponents, drives even more American Jews away from supporting Israel and cools the enthusiasm of many of Israel’s unquestioning supporters.

Who can defend such blatant unfairness? Particularly to Americans, such discrimination is distasteful and embarrassing.

Writing in British Palestine, Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog argued that a Jewish state must give gentiles full rights, even if it requires adopting minority halachic views, because anything else will deter international support. He was right then and remains correct today.

The favored tactic of Israel’s current opponents is denouncing it as an apartheid state. Supporters of Israel struggle to explain to an unreceptive public that Israel’s policies may appear discriminatory but are really based on security concerns. This is an uphill battle that we are losing, along with an increasing portion of unconvinced Jewish youth. When Israeli rabbis declare that Judaism is unabashedly discriminatory against gentiles, they inadvertently push away international support the country desperately needs. They provide ammunition to their enemies, drive away potential supporters and, perhaps most importantly, alienate their most ardent supporters.

I write this with trembling and tears because I revere the rabbis I am discussing. I am not contradicting or belittling them, but imploring them to take greater account of perspectives across the ocean. The problems they identify are real but Judaism offers other options that are not discriminatory and are therefore more attractive to the general public.

There are other ways to maintain Jewish neighborhoods. Instead of excluding gentiles, we can speak of integrated neighborhoods where Jewish culture is safeguarded. If safety is a concern, we need not exclude all non-Jews but only those people, Jewish or gentile, who cause trouble. From across the ocean, we wonder why rabbis only issue declarations against renting or selling to gentiles, and not against renting to non-religious or violently religious Jews. Of course, we bear a special bond to our coreligionists, but that does not adequately answer the question. The solutions sought in dealing with religious neighborhoods that deteriorate due to the infusion of unsavory Jewish elements should be applied to unsavory gentiles as well.

We fully support Israel and its rabbis. We implore its rabbis to help us grow this support and teach a new generation about the beauty of Judaism and the Jewish state.

Popular Blogger Gil Student: ‘The Internet Is A Dangerous Place’

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

In the world of Orthodox blogs, few are as popular as Hirhurim.blogspot.com, run by Rabbi Gil Student. Visited over four million times since its founding five years ago, Hirhurim – which the Jerusalem Post ranked as the “Best Jewish Religion Blog” in 2005 – features informative, intriguing, and sometimes controversial discussions on halacha, Jewish philosophy, biblical stories, and more.

Rabbi Student, the managing editor of OU Press and founder of Yashar Books, recently compiled some of his blog posts in book form. Released last month, Posts Along the Way, Vol. 1: Shuls includes 50 short essays on such topics as women rabbis, Carlebach minyanim, and the permissibility of holding one’s child duringdavening.

The Jewish Press recently spoke with Rabbi Student.

The Jewish Press: What inspired you to start your blog in March 2004?

Rabbi Student: At the time, there was a Jewish blog discussing homosexuality from a halachic perspective and I didn’t feel the sources were being represented accurately.

In 2006 the Conservative movement officially issued a permissive ruling on homosexuality. But back in 2004 they were in the discussion stage and a lot of discussion was happening online and via e-mail lists, and it had slowly moved to blogs.

I decided to create my own blog to correct what I thought was an incorrect and misleading halachic position on this sensitive topic.

Many people views blogs as forums for gossip and criticism of the Orthodox community establishment. What is your take?

If you have a hammer, you can use it to build a house or bang someone on the head. It’s a tool. It can be used for good or bad. Just as a newspaper can be used for gossip and horrible character assassination – a blog can also. And just like a newspaper can be used to enlighten the community and give it important information – a blog can also.

What’s your background?

My background is, I think, part of what makes me interesting to people. I went to a Solomon Schechter elementary school – so I have a Conservative upbringing. Then I went to Frisch for high school, a very modern Orthodox school. For college I was in YU, and now I live in the moderate Yeshivish community on the outskirts of Flatbush.

So I believe I have a pretty good idea of how all those communities, in general, think about various issues. So when new issues come up, I kind of think about them from various perspectives.

It’s very hard to pigeonhole me, and I get a lot of criticism for that. Some people think I’m an extreme left-winger, some people think I’m an extreme right-winger, and some people think I’m an extreme centrist. And I just don’t think I’m any of them.

How did a kid from Solomon Schechter wind up becoming an Orthodox rabbi?

I don’t really have a story. A person matures and thinks things from a different perspective. I have to do what I think is right, and I’m convinced that where I ended up is the right direction to be going.

Is Student your real last name or a penname?

It’s my real name. Student is a legitimate Polish name that we can trace back to the 1870s; it was not changed at Ellis Island.

You gained some notoriety four years ago when, as the president of Yashar Books, you decided to distribute Rabbi Nosson Slifkin’s books despite a ban placed upon them by leading haredi rabbis. Can you talk about that controversy?

It was a very polarizing debate and the people who opposed my position were very harsh in their condemnations; it was disillusioning and disturbing.

I’ll give you an example: a personal friend of Rabbi Slifkin started a blog against him criticizing him very harshly – theologically, ideologically and personally. I found it very disturbing that someone who knows so much Torah could be so personally hurtful.

Why did you support Rabbi Slifkin?

As a religious businessman I contacted various local rabbanim and asked them if they wanted these books available for their communities. I’m a firm believer that p’sak halacha be very specific to the individuals and communities involved.

Rabbi Slifkin’s books were written for people who have doubts or questions about their faith, particularly regarding so-called contradictions between Torah and science. In his books, he shows how the two can be reconciled. Many rabbis who recognize there are people in their communities who struggle with these issues asked me to make sure that Rabbi Slifkin’s books were available in stores to help people, even after – and despite – the ban on the books.

Earlier in your career you were involved in defending the Gemara against anti-Semitic charges. Can you talk about this?

That must have been about ten years ago. I came across anti-Semitic accusations against the Talmud, which I knew historically had been around for centuries, but I was surprised to see people bringing them back up and posting them on the Internet. I felt it was important that someone should respond to them, so I spent time doing the research and posted a number of responses. To this day I get e-mails about it.

How do you respond to people who claim the Gemara requires one mode of behavior vis-?-vis Jews and another vis-?-vis non-Jews?

This is something that Rabbi Michael Broyde has written about in law journals – Judaism’s approach to people within the legal system and outside of the legal system. For people who are outside the legal system and do not follow halacha, there’s a different standard in how you treat them because it’s not a reciprocal relationship. The Torah does not demand that you put yourself at a disadvantage because you follow halacha and they don’t.

Also, I think the general attitude is like a free market: you have to treat everyone fairly but everyone has to take care of themselves. Within your own community, though, you have to treat each other as family, just like if you were running a store you’d give a better discount to your brother than to some stranger off the street. The Jewish people [comprise] one big family.

Charging interest [is an example of this]. There’s nothing wrong with charging interest. It’s standard business practice; there’s an opportunity-cost of money. But when you’re dealing with family, you give them an interest-free loan.

Here and there, though, you hear Jews claiming one can cheat and lie when dealing with non-Jews.

I think it’s absolutely not true; it’s a distortion of the Torah.

So why do Jews say this?

You’re asking me a sociological question. Maybe it’s a leftover from Europe when we were persecuted; maybe it’s just an inner city mentality of everybody for themselves.

You also wrote a book arguing that the Lubavitcher Rebbe cannot be Moshiach. Can you talk about that?

I actually prefer not to. People get very offended by it. I wrote the book for ba’alei teshuvah to let them know that there’s more than one perspective on the issue. I have no interest in fighting with Lubavitch.

Any parting thoughts?

I do want to say one thing: The Internet is a dangerous place and just because I’m writing on the Internet doesn’t mean that I think it’s good for everybody to just go on the Internet.

I think it’s important for people to use filters and to be careful about what links they click on. We really need to guard ourselves because there is a lot of schmutz out there.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles//2009/09/16/

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