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A Grim Teaching A Grim Teaching
Friday, August 27, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Every first-year law student knows that hard cases make bad law. In Israel, a particularly hard case lies in the ongoing controversy around an inflammatory Hebrew-language volume of Jewish religious law (halakhah) that offers justifications for violent treatment of non-Jews in general and of Israel's foes in particular. The debate has highlighted longstanding divisions within Israeli society; now that the courts and the police have gotten into the act, it has also highlighted the difficulties of drawing meaningful lines between free speech and incitement.
The Soul and the Machine The Soul and the Machine
Thursday, August 12, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

The astounding growth of the Internet, computer technology, and artificial intelligence is a commonplace of our time; so is the challenge each poses to familiar ways of commerce and culture, and even to our basic understandings of humanity. Some of the farthest reaches of these developments are expressed in the "singularity" envisioned by the futurologist Raymond Kurzweil: a dazzling world in which, by the end of this century, humans will have so thoroughly merged with fog-like nano-computers that our bodies will no longer have a fixed form and we will, at long last, wield total control over—or be wholly at the mercy of?—an utterly...
Agunot Agunot
Wednesday, February 24, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Ta'anit Esther, the traditional fast day preceding Purim, will be observed tomorrow. In recent years it has been designated as an international day of study, reflection, and calls to action on behalf of agunot, literally "anchored" or "bound" women.  In biblical and talmudic law, a marriage is dissolved upon certain proof of a spouse's death or upon the granting of a divorce (get) at the husband's discretion. Each of these halakhic requirements can leave a woman languishing for years, tortured either by her husband's uncertain fate or by his malicious will. Though technically the term agunah is reserved for the former condition, it...
The Heart or the Head? The Heart or the Head?
Wednesday, February 10, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

In recent decades, "brain death," the cessation of all neurological activity, has increasingly supplanted cardiac-respiratory failure as the most widely accepted medical criterion of death. This definitional shift has helped mitigate the often ruinous toll on families of caring for patients whose hearts can be artificially kept beating in the absence of even the simplest brain function. It has also saved lives, by facilitating the process of preserving and donating organs for transplantation.  Fundamental to Judaism is the idea that human beings are created in the divine image. This affirmation of human dignity finds practical expression in the thoroughgoing prohibition on murder...
Tikkun Olam Tikkun Olam
Monday, February 1, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

If Israel's army was especially conspicuous during the early rescue and recovery efforts in Haiti, other Jewish agencies have been working on or behind the scenes as well. Among them is a coalition coordinated by the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish relief agency in continuous operation since World War I. According to the coalition's website, its Haiti-related work "demonstrates the age-old Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, or helping to repair the world." The phrase tikkun olam is indeed age-old, but its traditional meaning is very far from present-day connotations. The term originally appears in the second-century Mishnah to denote a specific set of...
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Editors' Picks
Mob Tactics Lee Smith, Tablet. While the Shalit deal was a moral calculation and a form of strategic communication, the Grapel deal was a simple case of extortion.
When Qaddafi Courted the Jews Ron Kampeas, JTA. What led Qaddafi to cultivate back-channel relationships with Jews and the U.S. over the past decade? And why were Jews receptive to the dictator's overtures?
To Ransom or Not to Ransom? Aryeh Tepper, Jewish Ideas Daily. As demands for the release of captive soldiers grow ever more exorbitant, when is the price simply too high to pay?
Evil Urge Amit Gevaryahu, Talmud Blog. A new work tackles one of the most entrenched myths in the academic study of Jewish sources: namely, that Judaism has historically been a sex-positive religion.
Let Us Now Praise Muslim Feminists Phyllis Chesler, Pajamas Media. One Jewish woman celebrates the 19th- and early-20th-century Muslims who emerged from sex slavery to fight for universal human rights.
Declaring Death Gil Student, Torah Musings. In the 1960's, Israeli doctors began aggressively promoting the view that declaration of death was a purely medical matter. But it wasn't easy to enlist rabbis in their cause.
Why Fast? Elli Fischer, Adderabbi. Expiation, corrective, a reflection of mood, or sensitization to the plight of the needy? Only one of these reasons has biblical support.
Plato and the Talmud Alan Avery-Peck, Review of Biblical Literature. Philosophically, "Athens" and "Jerusalem" represent wholly incompatible viewpoints on the truth. Not so, argues a new book. (PDF)
Brave New World Mary J. Loftus, Huffington Post. A law professor and Orthodox rabbi contends that new reproductive technologies should be embraced—cautiously, and within limits—for the good they can do.
Forgive Me Moshe Halbertal, Jewish Review of Books. In explaining the laws of forgiveness, the Talmud relies on stories, adding uncommon depth not only to the law but to the theme of forgiveness itself.