Law and Identity in Comparative Perspective: Reflections on Debra Kaplan’s Beyond Expulsion: Jews, Christians, and Reformation Strasbourg
April 21, 2013
How does law shape communal identity and foster group solidarity? Debra Kaplan’s recent book, Beyond Expulsion: Jews, Christians, and Reformation Strasbourg, explores how laws promulgated in 16th-century Strasbourg limiting contact between Christians and Jews were not intended to govern practice but rather to construct communal identity. In order to facilitate comparative discussion, panelists will reflect on this function of law in other contexts, including international law, American Constitutional law and Israeli law.
Panelists include Debra Kaplan (Yeshiva University), Alexander Kaye (Princeton University), Jeremy Kessler (Yale University), and J. H. H. Weiler (NYU Law School)
Agents of the Divine: Reflections on Judicial, Papal and Rabbinic Infallibility
February 5, 2012
The American Constitutional, Catholic and Jewish traditions include important strains that impute absolute infallibility to authoritative figures. This controversial claim raises important questions, which will be taken up by panelists at this event: What is the basis for the view that human authorities are infallible? Is there some way in which a doctrine of infallibility is shaped by a view of judges, popes and rabbis as possessing divinely-endowed authority, as, in some way, drawing upon God's infallibility? Does infallibility indicate that these figures are viewed as representatives for, or even embodiments of, God?
On the other hand, what, exactly, are the arguments offered by the opponents of infallibility—are they theological in nature, denying the possibility of divine presence in human decisors, or are they, instead, political in nature? Does the possibility of judicial infallibility in the
American Constitutional context resemble, in its structure and foundation, the similar doctrine in the religious context? Is the image of the judge in the American imagination shaped by religious conceptions, or, ultimately, should the possibility of judicial infallibility in the secular context be distinguished from its counterpart in the religious context?
Panelists include Robert Burt (Yale Law School), Lawrence Kaplan (McGill University), and Kenneth L. Parker (Saint Louis University)
Conversion to Judaism Through the Ages: Historical and Theoretical Reflections
December 7, 2011
Of all Judaic rituals, that of giyyur (conversion) is arguably the most radical: it irrevocably turns a Gentile into a Jew. Since the classical Jewish tradition regards Jewishness as an ascriptive status acquired through birth to a Jewish mother, the very possibility of such a transformation is anomalous. Due to a wide and complex set of factors, attitudes toward conversion, details of the process and expectations for the convert have differed depending on the historical time and place. Join us for a panel that explores the ways in which Jewish law and culture have treated conversion to Judaism in the Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Zionist contexts.
Panelists include Arye Edrei (Tel-Aviv University Faculty of Law), Ephraim Kanarfogel (Yeshiva University), Debra Kaplan (Yeshiva University), and Zvi Zohar (Bar-Ilan University)
The Interdisciplinary Study of Law and History: Methodological Reflections
March 16, 2011
Until recently, historians have regarded legal systems as a set of objective social facts that are best described by outside observers. Typically, the historian viewed legal rules and decisions as responses to and, therefore, reflections of economic, social, and political conditions in the surrounding culture. Law was seen as a body of factual information, referring either to social contexts or rules. Scholars and practitioners of law, however, have maintained that law is not merely a set of rules or a functionalist response to the social world. It is, they claim, a cognitive activity, a normative practice, with its own distinct language and logic that must be understood from within.
In recent years, however, the disciplines of law and history have met somewhere in the middle of this dichotomy. This has been accomplished largely through the study of legal theory. Historians have begun to understand that anyone who wishes to offer an historical account of law in society cannot merely approach law as raw data; one must understand how the players in the legal system think. Law, on the other hand, has come to understand that the study of how jurists think is not solely a matter of investigating legal statutes and decisions. One must also understand the intellectual and historical contexts that have shaped the thinking and reactions of jurists and the statutes and decisions they have created.
This interdisciplinary connection, which has been mutually beneficial for the fields of history and law, has also begun to trickle into other disciplines. Jewish Studies, in particular, has begun to consider the value of studying law together with history, and history through the lens of law and legal theory.
Panelists: Shai Lavi (Tel Aviv University, Faculty of Law), Samuel Moyn (Columbia University, Department of History), Assaf Likhovski (Tel Aviv University, Faculty of Law), Richard Ross (University of Illinois, Law School and History Department)
Judaism and Human Rights
February 28, 2011
One of the outstanding features of the modern world is the multitude of identities of individuals, communities, and sometimes even states— a situation that is both enriching and challenging. In many cases, this profusion of identities surrounds the relationship between religious identity and a commitment to the values of Western liberalism, in particular to human rights discourse. The relationship of Jews in Israel and worldwide to their Jewish identity, on the one hand, and their dedication to Western liberal values, on the other, exemplifies the rich potential, as well as the tension and challenges, of the encounter between religion and modernity.
Many Jews in the modern world live in a state of cultural duality. As individuals and communities, they draw from the wellsprings of both Jewish tradition and Western liberal thought. In theory and in practice, they embrace both their Jewish identity (as an expression of national, cultural, and religious uniqueness) and their liberal democratic identity. Yet the Jewish religious and political traditions, by their very nature, often contain elements of particularity and exclusion.
This tension has a profound influence on the identity of the State of Israel. Numerous studies conducted in Israel have found a universal desire by Jews to live in both worlds. This desire is reflected not only in the individual and communal sphere but also in the accepted definition of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Yet in contemporary Israel, where questions of human rights and exclusion of minorities are more existential and less theoretical than in many other Western nations, the question of the complex relationship between human rights and Jewish tradition is especially timely. Some observers have come to believe that maintaining the primacy of human rights in what is, in many ways, a particularist state is too difficult to justify. Others, relying on Jewish tradition, believe that human rights should be a supreme value in a Jewish nation.
The Human Rights and Judaism panel will explore the challenges and opportunities of living in a culture, and a nation, in which there is a synergy between what would appear to be the mutually exclusive goals of a particularistic vision and a humanist, liberal worldview. The goal of the encounter is not to promote a particular position but to study the phenomenon of cultural duality from different vantagepoints. We wish to examine the attitude of Judaism in its broadest sense—law, philosophy, culture, and historical memory—toward the concept of human rights. At the same time, we wish to explore the unique rights and duties found within Jewish culture, and their relevance to the Jewish and democratic nation-state as well as to Jews in the Diaspora.
Panelists include Shahar Lifshitz (Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Law), Yair Lorberbaum (Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Law), Samuel Moyn (Columbia University), and Suzanne Last Stone (Cardozo Law School).
The panel is being co-sponsored by the CJL and the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI).
Stanley Fish and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik on Law, Interpretation, and Truth
William Kolbrener, author of “No ‘Elsewhere’: Fish, Soloveitchik, and the Unavoidability of Interpretation,” Literature & Theology 10 (1996), will headline a public panel expanding on the arguments he advanced in the aforementioned article. Kolbrener argues that Fish and Soloveitchik, a leading jurist and philosopher of Modern Orthodoxy during the 20th century who taught at Yeshiva University, undermine claims to Enlightenment neutrality - Fish in the context of those offering what he calls, 'Theory Hope,' and Soloveitchik as part of a not-so-veiled attack on progressive movements in Judaism. In presenting the material from his earlier article, Kolbrener will modify his understanding of both Soloveitchik and Fish, showing how Fish, especially in his recent work, has turned away from an antagonism to theology, and how Soloveitchik needs to be understood outside of the categories of the pragmatic and rhetorical. In the latter case that the resistance to metaphysics and the turn to interpretation does not entail a rejection of the transcendent, but really, in some sense, a turn towards it. Towards the end of the talk, Kolbrener plans to introduce a category present in Soloveitchik’s work, and that he suggests is lurking in Fish, and that is, love. Especially for the former, the pragmatics of truth, the breaking down of the subject-object distinction, and the autonomous and internal valdiation of truth are based upon love.
In addition to Kolbrener, the panel will feature Fish himself, who will offer his reflections on the relationship between his work and Soloveitchik’s, as well as Daniel Rynhold, a scholar of modern Jewish philosophy and an expert on Soloveitchik, who teaches in YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies.
Nietzsche and the Law: The Impact of Nietzsche’s Writings on Jewish and Western Legal Traditions
April 22, 2010
Nietzsche’s critiques of Western metaphysics in the late 19th century had devastating implications for both theology and law. His thought, however, has been incorporated in diverse ways into the very systems he undermined. This panel will be devoted to an exploration of the implications of Nietzschean ideas for the contemporary study of law and theology, particularly the case of Jewish law, a system that brings together the theological and the legal. Panelists include Hanina Ben-Menahem (Hebrew University), Daniel Rynhold (Yeshiva University), Richard Weisberg (Cardozo Law School), and Shira Wolosky (Hebrew University).
American Exceptionalism and the Relevance of Political Theology in Amercia
February 21, 2010
The concept of the qualitative uniqueness of America, known as American exceptionalism, dates back to Alexis de Tocqueville’s nineteenth-century description of American democracy as “exceptional.” In recent decades, American exceptionalism has been re-examined by a number of scholars and thinkers, and has once again become a subject of heated debate in scholarship as well as public policy.
American exceptionalism has been used both to describe and explain America’s unique political, legal, social and religious landscapes. It has served as a justification of American foreign policy and America’s frequent choice to act alone, rather than among the community of nations. American exceptionalism has been derided as a jingoist manifestation of American arrogance; it has been praised by proud Americans as an expression of their nation’s uniqueness. The term has been used neutrally by scholars attempting to compare America and other nations, and by those attempting to evaluate the validity of the expression.
Claims of uniqueness and exceptionalism can be understood as secularized versions of claims to theological chosenness and uniqueness that lie in the foreground of American history, and the perennial quest to serve as a “city on a hill” or a “light among the nations.” In this sense, American exceptionalism merits exploration in the context of political theology, a concept famously encapsulated by Carl Schmitt as the notion that all modern political concepts are secularized theological ones. In a forthcoming book, legal scholar Paul Kahn argues that a re-examination of Schmitt’s concept of political theology and his associated understanding of sovereignty can be tremendously useful in a re-examination of American exceptionalism, and the continual tension in America between the rule of law and the concept of popular sovereignty. Join us as we consider the concept of American exceptionalism from the perspective of political theology.
Panelists include Peter Berkowitz (Hoover Institution), Hendrik Hartog (Princeton University), Paul W. Kahn (Yale Law School), Samuel Moyn (Columbia University), and Michel Rosenfeld (Cardozo Law School).
Kingship in Jewish Law and Theology
October 15, 2009
How does Jewish law imagine the role of human political authority within a theological system that affirms God as the ultimate authority? Join us as we host a panel discussion on Yair Lorberbaum’s recent book on political theology in Jewish law and thought, Subordinated King: Kingship in Classical Jewish Literature.
Panelists include David Flatto (Assistant Professor of Law and Religion, Penn State University), Yair Lorberbaum (Professor of Law, Bar-Ilan Law School), Adiel Schremer (Professor of Jewish History, Bar-Ilan University), and Suzanne Last Stone (University Professor of Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization, Yeshiva University; Professor of Law, Cardozo Law School).
The Bible as a Problem for Contemporary Intellectual Discourse
March 16, 2008
“The Bible as a Problem for Contemporary Intellectual Discourse” will be held as part of a two-day conference on “The Hebrew Bible in Contemporary Intellectual Discourse.” This public panel will take a broader view of the themes of the conference by considering the actual and potential contributions of the Bible to contemporary intellectual discourse. How can the Hebrew Bible contribute to contemporary intellectual discourse, and why has it emerged as an important resource for so many contemporary thinkers?
Panelists include Leora Batnitzky (Princeton University), Perry Dane (Rutgers University Law School), David Gelernter (Yale University), Yoram Hazony (Shalem Center), and Shmuel Trigano (University of Paris X-Nanterre). Stanley Fish (Florida International University College of Law) will serve as commentator.
Military Ethics in an Age of Terrorism: Comparative Perspectives
October 28, 2007
The impact of global terrorism on the ethics of warfare is a subject of ongoing debate among policymakers, scholars, and thoughtful citizens. Should this novel threat alter the moral constraints ordinarily imposed on combatants, and if so, how and why? This panel will feature specialists in Jewish law, Islamic law, Constitutional law, and moral philosophy.
Panelists will include Suzanne Last Stone, Professor of Law at Cardozo Law School and Director, Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization; Sohail Hashmi, Associate Professor of International Relations, Mount Holyoke College; George P. Fletcher, Cardozo Professor of Jurisprudence, Columbia Law School; and Daniel Statman, Professor of Philosophy, Haifa University.)
Advocates for the Jews: A New Model of Lawyering?
Monday, October 23, 2006
Does the emergence of lawyers in the role as advocates for Jews and Jewish causes represent a distinctive form of legal activism? In other words, have Jewish lawyers invented a unique form of lawyering, namely their role as private attorneys general for the Jews? Four of the foremost Jewish lawyers share their thoughts in this special panel, being held in conjunction with the three-day conference on “Jews in the Legal Profession.” Panelists include Irwin Cotler (Member of the Canadian Parliament and former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada), Alan Dershowitz (Harvard Law School), Stuart Eizenstat (former Deputy Treasury Secretary under President Clinton), and Nathan Lewin (former Assistant Attorney General under President Kennedy and founding partner, Lewin & Lewin LLP).
Law’s Empire and the Sea of the Talmud: Ronald Dworkin on Jewish Law and Interpretation
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Center for Jewish History
In a special public panel co-sponsored by the Program in Jewish Law and Interdisciplinary Studies and the Center for Jewish History, Professor Ronald Dworkin (Oxford University and New York University School of Law) will address the application of his theories on justice and the nature of legal interpretation to Jewish law. Dr. Norman Lamm will be the respondent. The panel will take place at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th Street.
Feminist Jurisprudence, Lacan, and Kabbalah
Monday, February 13, 2006
This joint panel will feature Renata Salecl, Senior Researcher, Institute of Criminology, Faculty of Law, University of Ljubljana and Centennial Professor, Department of Law, London School of Economics, and Elliot R. Wolfson, Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University, who will discuss their interdisciplinary work on Lacanian psycholanalytic theory. Professor Salecl, a philosopher and sociologist, and Professor Wolfson, an expert in Jewish mysticism who is interested in phenomenology of religion, hermeneutics, literary theory, and gender studies, will discuss the theoretical areas in which their work intersect.