2011-2012

Conversion in Jewish Law and Thought

Join Dr. Zvi Zohar, Chauncy Stillman Professor of Sephardic Law and Ethics at Bar Ilan University and a Senior Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, for a four-part study group on conversion in Jewish law. Of all Judaic rituals, that of giyyur (conversion) is arguably the most radical: it irrevocably turns a Gentile into a Jew. The very possibility of such a transformation is anomalous, according to Jewish tradition, which regards Jewishness as an ascriptive status entered through birth to a Jewish mother. And, when a Gentile does become a Jew, what is the entailment between the religious and ethnic components of Jewishness: does joining the religion entail membership in the ethnic collective? Or does joining the ethnic collective entail obligation to observe the religion? How has the process of giyyur developed from rabbinic times to the present – and what does this reflect?

In this four-part series we will study together primary halakhic sources from rabbinic times to the present, and see how they provide answers to the above questions – and others.

The study group will convene from 6:30-8:30pm on the following dates: October 24, October 31, November 7, November 14. All sessions will take place at the JCC in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Avenue at 76th Street. Advance registration to jewishlaw@yu.edu is required, as space is limited.


2010-2011

Maimonides On Parables

This text-study group, to be led by Professor Yair Lorberbaum (Bar-Ilan Law School) will study the introduction to Maimonides' "Guide for the Perplexed," where we will focus on Maimonides’ view of parables and their central role in guiding the perplexed.  We will extend our discussion of parables by focusing on their use in Maimonides’ interpretation of the Garden of Eden in the opening chapters of the Guide.

This text-study group is on an intermediate level and is not suitable as a first introduction to Maimonides. Basic knowledge of Hebrew is required.

The number of participants will be limited to 25.


2008-2009

Halakha and Philanthropy

The theme of this year's colloquium will be "Halakha and Philanthropy," a subject of increasing importance and relevance in light of current events. The first session will explore the nature of charity and its role in the nexus of positive commandments. Is charity a legal obligation, a benevolent gift that can only be encouraged or recommended, or a social justice obligation that can be coerced? What implications do these alternative models have for public policy? Later sessions will explore the relationship of charity to both individual choice and communal identity. Does halakha recognize a right to earmark gifts? Must recipients of charity adhere with donor intent? Do non-Jews have an obligation to give charity, and do Jews have an obligation to support non-Jews? To what extent does the manner of a community's charitable giving define its character? Does the halakha suggest a framework for public stewardship?

This is an opportunity to engage in collaborative study of rabbinic texts together with the Center’s faculty, staff, and graduate fellows, including Professor Suzanne Stone (Cardozo), Professor Shmuel Trigano (Professor of Religious and Political Sociology, University of Paris X-Nanterre), Professor Shahar Lifshitz (Senior Lecturer in Law, Bar-Ilan University), Professor Yair Lorberbaum (Professor of Law, Bar-Ilan University), Rabbi Ozer Glickman (RIETS), Rabbi Yehuda Seif (Ph.D. candidate, University of Pennsylvania), and Ari Mermelstein (Ph.D. candidate, NYU; Instructor of Bible, YU).


2007-2008

Jewish Law and Zionism

Individual sessions will consider the reaction of Jewish law, a system that developed in the Diaspora, to the new reality of political sovereignty and power. Our focus will be on the role that Zionism plays in the decisions of contemporary Jewish jurists and thinkers on questions ranging from war to language to observance of the sabbatical year. How do differing attitudes toward the State of Israel and toward Zionism affect legal decisionmaking, both substantively and especially methodologically?

The Text-Study Colloquium, organized by the Yeshiva University Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at Cardozo Law School, provides an opportunity to engage in collaborative study of Talmudic texts together with the Center’s faculty and graduate fellows, including Professor Suzanne Stone (Cardozo), Rabbi Ozer Glickman (Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary), David Flatto (Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard), and Ari Mermelstein (Ph.D. Candidate, NYU), as well as with visiting professors, including Shahar Lifshitz (Bar-Ilan Law School) and Arye Edrei (Tel-Aviv University Law School). Each session opens with introductory analysis by a member of the Center faculty, followed by study and discussion of texts in smaller groups, each led by members of the Center faculty. The entire group re-convenes following an hour of text-study for conclusory thoughts and discussion.

Individual sessions are as follows:

Dialect variants among Jewish immigrants in Israel
As Jews from around the world emigrated to Israel in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, rabbinic decisors had to pass judgment on the appropriate dialect of Hebrew for liturgical purposes: could these new immigrants continue pronouncing Hebrew as they traditionally had, or were they now bound to adhere to a uniform, official dialect? Interspersed within the legal arguments advanced in support of each position is a deeper ideological divide over the character of the fledgling Jewish community: is it a melting pot or a multicultural society in which all Jews live but preserve their native traditions?

The Sabbatical year prohibition
The laws governing the sabbatical year, during which the land in Israel must remain fallow, had been irrelevant as long as the Jews lived in the Diaspora. With the influx of Jews in the late 19th century, the sabbatical year threatened the viability of Zionism. How could Jewish farmers thrive if they had to refrain from working the land every seventh year? The debates about whether to introduce certain legal fictions that would effectively make farming permissible in the sabbatical year revealed the fault lines of a deeper ideological divide in religious Zionism: did the Zionist enterprise constitute a more expansive Jewish community that included under its umbrella both the Orthodox and the secular Jews, in which case Jewish law would have to confront the reality that secular Zionists would flaunt observance of the sabbatical year, or did Zionism only have to take account of its Orthodox constituency, who should have faith that God would repay their efforts at observing the sabbatical year?

Laws of War
As long as Jewish law governed a minority population that did not enjoy political sovereignty, it was not necessary for rabbis to formulate laws of war. With the creation of a Jewish army and a return to political sovereignty, however, religious Zionists were forced to confront this gap in Jewish law. Were the rabbinic leadership empowered to fill this gap and authorize Jewish soldiers to kill? Underlying the debates were questions of whether the Jewish polity had to adhere to a higher ethical standard and whether to conceive of war as an act against a group of individuals, in which case collateral damage and collective punishment were problematic propositions, or an act against a collectivity, in which case collateral damage and collective punishment were more palatable.


2006-2007

The Morality of Jewish Private Law

The theme of the inaugural Text-Study Colloquium will be “The Morality of Jewish Private Law.” The content of private law (e.g., contracts, torts, and property) varies dramatically between different legal systems, and these substantive differences often reflect divergent values, world-views, and moral sensibilities. This Colloquium will compare the moral dimension of Jewish private law with that of American and Israeli private law. We envision covering such topics as unfair contracts, unjust enrichment, restitution, and employer-employee relations.

The Text-Study Colloquium is sponsored by Cardozo Law School’s Program in Jewish Law and Interdisciplinary Studies (PJLIS). This is an opportunity to engage in collaborative study of Talmudic texts together with the Program’s faculty and graduate fellows, including Professor Suzanne Stone (Cardozo), Professor Shahar Lifshitz (Bar-Ilan Law School), Rabbi Ozer Glickman (RIETS), David Flatto (Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard); and Ari Mermelstein (Ph.D. Candidate, NYU).