The Yeshiva University Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization brings together scholars of varied legal traditions and fields, creating a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary dialogue that contributes a distinctively Jewish legal perspective on issues in law and culture. The CJL sponsors a wide range of academic activities, including an innovative curriculum in Jewish law and legal theory, workshops, colloquia and conferences, as well as programs designed to support students and emerging scholars.
Meet Our Directors
Professor Suzanne Last Stone
Professor Stone has held the Gruss Visiting Chair in Talmudic Civil Law at both the Harvard and University of Pennsylvania Law Schools, and also has visited at Princeton, Columbia Law, Hebrew University Law, and Tel Aviv Law. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Columbia University Law School and was a Danforth Fellow in 1974 in Jewish History and Classical Religions at Yale University. Before joining the Cardozo faculty, Stone clerked for Judge John Minor Wisdom of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and then practiced litigation at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison. In addition to teaching courses in Jewish Law and Political Thought and Jewish Law and American Legal Theory, she currently teaches Federal Courts and Law, Religion and the State.
Professor Ari Mermelstein
Professor Mermelstein is Associate Professor of Bible at Yeshiva College. He holds a PhD from NYU's Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, a JD from NYU Law School, and a BA from Yeshiva College. Dr. Mermelstein's first book, Creation, Covenant, and the Beginnings of Judaism: Reconceiving Historical Time in the Second Temple Period, appeared in 2014 as part of the Journal for the Study of Judaism Supplement Series (Brill). He has co-edited two other books, Jews and the Law (Quid Pro Press) and The Divine Courtroom in Comparative Perspective (Brill). His current research agenda is devoted to the study of emotion in ancient Judaism.
The Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization began in 2004 as the Program in Jewish Law and Interdisciplinary Studies at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. The Program in Jewish Law was conceived as a forum for interdisciplinary dialogue among Jewish law, other religious legal traditions, Western legal theory and the humanities. Founding director Suzanne Last Stone’s trailblazing scholarship, which merged the fields of Jewish law and comparative legal theory, served as a model for the type of work that the Program in Jewish Law sought to promote. The ambition of the Program in Jewish Law’s leadership was to develop a distinctively American contribution to the study of Jewish law, complementing and enhancing older, more established centers for the study of Jewish law in Israel. At the same time, by viewing Jewish law through the prism of contemporary intellectual discourse, the Program could bring the Jewish tradition into the marketplace of ideas, which, in an era of globalization, has become increasingly preoccupied with the importance of religion and law in global politics and the contribution of diverse religions to modern thought.
Housed at Cardozo, Yeshiva University’s law school, in New York City, the Program in Jewish Law capitalized on the unique resources available at the university. The Program in Jewish Law typified Cardozo Law School's broader initiative on interdisciplinary and comparative inquiry into law, and it drew on the talents of the Cardozo faculty in its various activities. Cardozo has particularly strong offerings in Jewish law, law and religion, legal theory, philosophy and law and literature, and is home to several other centers, including the Floersheimer Center for Constitutional Democracy, the Program in Holocaust and Human Rights Studies and the Program in Law and Humanities, with missions that were shared, in part, by the Program in Jewish Law. At the same time, the Program in Jewish Law took advantage of the deep interest in matters Jewish in other branches of the university. Yeshiva University is the nation’s leading institution of higher learning under Jewish auspices and is a magnet for students interested in the philosophy and theory of Jewish law. Professors from the university’s undergraduate colleges, graduate school of Jewish studies and rabbinical school were part of the original core of the Program in Jewish Law’s intellectual community. Located in New York City, the Program in Jewish Law also tapped into the vibrant intellectual life in the fields of law, Jewish law and Jewish studies throughout various universities and seminaries in the tri-state area. Regular participants in the Program’s activities hailed from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Hebrew Union College, Yale, Harvard, NYU, Princeton, NYU Law School, Rutgers Law School, Fordham Law School, New York Law School and Brooklyn Law School, among others. In recognition of the Program’s success in changing the field of Jewish law, creating a vibrant, international and interdisciplinary community of scholars and students, and uniting the disparate branches of Yeshiva University, in 2007 the university elevated the Program into the university-wide Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization (CJL).
The five initial goals of the Center were to:
- Create a new field, consisting of the study of rabbinic texts and the rabbinic tradition in light of legal theory and interdisciplinary approaches to law, especially law and the humanities.
- Design a program to train a new generation of scholars to think broadly and conceptually about rabbinic texts and deeply about the modern condition in order to bring the Jewish legal tradition into public discourse on the pressing subjects of our time.
- Advance understanding of civilizational issues, by studying Jewish law together with other religious and legal traditions, primarily American constitutionalism, Islamic law and Canon law.
- Create an international community of scholars and students dedicated to the goals of the Center and engaged in ongoing collaboration with the Center and its programs.
- Educate the public, especially communal leaders and lay professionals.
All five of these goals have been met through a combination of graduate and postdoctoral programs and fellowships, faculty workshops, faculty reading groups, academic visits, colloquia, text-study workshops, conferences and publications. More details on all of these programs can be found in the Center’s newsletter or elsewhere on this website.
Jews and the Law
Jews are a people of law, and law defines who the Jewish people are and what they believe. This anthology engages with the growing complexity of what it is to be Jewish — and, more problematically, what it means to be at once Jewish and participate in secular legal systems as lawyers, judges, legal thinkers, civil rights advocates, and teachers.
The Divine Courtroom in Comparative Perspective
Contributors to The Divine Courtroom in Comparative Perspective treat one of the most pervasive religious metaphors, that of the divine courtroom, in both its historical and thematic senses. In order to shed light on the various manifestations of the divine courtroom, this volume consists of essays by scholars of the ancient Near East, Hebrew Bible, Second Temple Judaism, early Christianity, Talmud, Islam, medieval Judaism, and classical Greek literature. Contributions to the volume primarily center upon three related facets of the divine courtroom: the role of the divine courtroom in the earthly legal system; the divine courtroom as the site of historical justice; and the divine courtroom as the venue in which God is called to answer for his own unjust acts.
In an impressive display of support for the importance of CJL’s mission, some of the world’s leading judges, academics, and intellectuals have agreed to serve as members of the Center's academic advisory board. The board, composed of individuals who appreciate the contribution that Jewish law can make to the understanding of law and who also recognize the critical importance of reshaping the study of Jewish law in light of modern legal thought, serves as an important piece of CJL’s institutional infrastructure.
Justice Aharon Barak
Justice Stephen Breyer
Professor Alan Dershowitz , Harvard Law School
Professor George Fletcher, Columbia Law School
Professor Ruth Gavison , Hebrew University Law School
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Chancellor Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Yeshiva University
Mr. Nathan Lewin
Judge Michael McConnell
Professor Fania Oz-Salzberger , Haifa University Law School
Professor Bernhard Schlink, Humboldt University, Berlin
Professor Adam Seligman, Boston University
Professor Haym Soloveitchik , Yeshiva University
Professor Michael Walzer , Institute for Advanced Study
Professor Ernest Weinrib , University of Toronto Law School
We gratefully acknowledge the individuals and institutions whose support has been invaluable to CJL:
- Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
- Dr. Anna Baum and Mr. Barry Novack
- Mr. C. Daniel Chill
- Mr. Lester Crown
- Leonard and Bea Diener Institute of Jewish Law
- Mr. Eric Goldstein
- Estate of Dr. Ivan Isaak Meyer
- Mr. George Rohr
- Mr. Ron Shoshany
- Mr. Ronald and Mrs. Adele Tauber
- The Tikvah Fund
- Yeshiva University
- Mr. Joshua Eisen
- Mr. Lawrence Kobrin
- Mr. Ari Bergmann
- Mr. Eugene Keilin and Mrs. Joanne Witty
In recent years, a new methodological connection has been forged between the disciplines of history and law through the study of legal theory. The CJL fellowships—undergraduate, graduate, and postdoc—capitalize on these interdisciplinary connections by integrating Anglo-American legal theory into the study of Jewish law and Jewish history, in order to provide a new methodological tool for re-thinking Jewish law as well reconsidering Anglo-American legal theory through the example of Jewish law.
Jewish texts from all periods of historical inquiry are infused with legal language and legal ideas. The academic study of Jewish law, however, often focuses on historical, social and cultural forces that impact law, without considering the ways in which legal theories – ideas about what law is and how law works – have impacted Jewish history. On the other side of the coin, legal theory stands to gain much from Jewish law. In the Diaspora, Jewish law not only survived but flourished for centuries—indeed for two millennia — without a state or central judicial institution and always within other legal jurisdictions. Jewish law pushes the boundaries of how legal theory understands law, the limits of jurisdictional boundaries, and the possibilities of plural legal communities. It thus represents an overlooked resource for legal theory as law and nation-states confront today’s globalized world.
These fellowships introduce students to the foundational texts of legal theory, as well as several essential legal-theoretical questions in Jewish law. The CJL fellowships focus on the intellectual and philosophical content of the issues discussed, while simultaneously serving as a broader introduction to interdisciplinary studies.
The Consortium in Jewish Studies and Legal Theory will begin receiving applications for its 2016-2017 Graduate Fellowship, a three-semester forum for the interdisciplinary exchange of ideas between legal academia and Judaic studies, on April 1, 2016. The Fellowship will cover the Fall 2016, Spring 2017, and Fall 2017 semesters. The Consortium is a collaboration between Columbia, NYU, Princeton, Yale, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the Yeshiva University Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, but graduate students at other institutions are encouraged to apply. Ten fellowships will be awarded.
The Graduate Fellowship aims to bring legal theory into the disciplines of Jewish history and Jewish law. In the general academy, a new methodological connection has been forged over the last few decades between the disciplines of history and law, largely through the importation of legal theory into the study of history and comparative law. Legal history has raised the level of academic discourse both for historians and legal theorists, pushing both to consider important factors once outside their respective disciplines. This interdisciplinary sophistication, already mainstream in other fields of study, will play an important role in the future of Jewish studies.
The Graduate Fellowship fosters a community of impressive and accomplished PhD candidates in various disciplines of Jewish studies. Each fellow offers a unique perspective and provides a distinctive contribution to the nascent field of Jewish law and legal theory. In addition to working closely with other fellows and gaining literacy in legal theory and its application to the study of Jewish texts, fellows interact regularly with prominent scholars, both in Judaic studies and legal theory.
Graduate fellows take an eleven-session seminar on legal theory led by Suzanne Last Stone, professor of law at Cardozo Law School and director of the Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization. The seminar is carefully designed to introduce students to the essential questions and problems of legal theory that are relevant to an examination of Jewish texts and Jewish history. We spend the first part of the year acquiring a common vocabulary and learning the basics of legal theory. We cover the two major theories of law: positivism and natural law and then concentrate on a hybrid of these three: the common law and one of its modern offshoots (historical jurisprudence). We also learn the two major theories of adjudication: formalism and realism. In this section of the seminar, we will test our knowledge by applying these theories to rabbinic texts. Categorizing rabbinic texts in this way is not the final goal of the seminar; it is, rather, a pedagogic exercise to help illuminate and concretize the theories. We will then move on to “the interpretive turn” in jurisprudence, exploring more contemporary versions of the main theories we have covered.
Because a major goal of the seminar is to create an intellectual community, fellows are expected to work together and to share their own work with one another. The Fellowship year concludes with a Graduate Conference, held on the campuses of consortium members on a rotating basis.
Graduate Conference 2011-2012
On April 22, 2012, the CJL hosted its fourth annual graduate conference on Jewish law and legal theory in New York City. The first conference, held in Jerusalem in November of 2008, focused on the methodological problems of looking at law from a theoretical perspective versus an historical perspective, in addition to spirited discussions surrounding papers presented – in Hebrew and English – by the graduate students. The second conference, which took place at Cardozo Law School in New York in April of 2010, focused less exclusively on methodology, and jumped right into particular issues relating to the nexus between Jewish law and academic theory, and the third conference, held in May 2011 in Jerusalem, followed this format, with a special focus on the relationship between Jewish law and legal realism.
The 2012 conference was the first to include the participation of present and past graduate alumni and is part of the CJL’s effort to build an intellectual community around its fellowship program. The morning session featured two concurrent text-study sessions, one on law and literature that was led by graduate fellow alumni Lynn Kaye and Yitzhak Lewis and the other on law and history that was led by alumni Alex Kaye and Eytan Zadoff. These sessions included an introduction to the topic by the presenters followed by group study and discussion of primary texts. The afternoon session was devoted to the presentation and discussion of papers by four current or former CJL grad fellows. Marc Herman (Penn, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations) presented "One or Three Central Problems for Medieval Rabbanite Legal Theory"; Elana Stein Hain (Columbia, Department of Religion) presented "Contemporary Legal Paradigms and Talmudic Law: The Case of Ha'arama (Deception)"; Elias Sacks (Princeton, Department of Religion) presented "Jewish Law as Political Educator: Mendelssohn on the Tabernacle"; and Richard Hidary (Assistant Professor of Judaic Studies, Yeshiva University) presented "Truth vs. Rhetoric: The Role of Lawyers in Rabbinic Literature."
Graduate Conference: 2010-2011
On May 26th and 27th 2011, the Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization, Tel Aviv University Law School, and the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute hosted the third annual international graduate conference in Jewish law and legal theory at Kibbutz Tzuba in Israel. First conceived a few years ago through the joint vision of Hanina Ben-Menahem, Arye Edrei, and Suzanne Last Stone, the graduate conference – which brings together the Israeli and American Graduate Fellows of the Center for Jewish Law, students of Jewish history, Jewish law, and Jewish thought – is a unique and exciting new initiative. Often, these two parallel intellectual communities are not in conversation with one another, and bring vastly different assumptions to the study of Jewish law.
The first conference, held in Jerusalem in November of 2008, focused on the methodological problems of looking at law from a theoretical perspective versus an historical perspective, in addition to spirited discussions surrounding papers presented – in Hebrew and English – by the graduate students. The second conference, which took place at Cardozo Law School in New York in April of 2010, focused less exclusively on methodology, and jumped right into particular issues relating to the nexus between Jewish law and academic theory, and the third conference followed this format, with a special focus on the relationship between Jewish law and legal realism.
Suzanne Last Stone, Director of the Center for Jewish Law, University Professor of Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization and Professor of Law at Cardozo Law School, Hanina Ben-Menahem, Professor of Law at Hebrew University Law School, and Arye Edrei, Professor of Law at Tel Aviv University Law School, opened the conference with a presentation of sources and materials on legal realism. The bilingual, high-level seminar discussion focused on the question of whether the traditional methods of legal realism as adumbrated in early twentieth century American legal thought could be seen as underlying rabbinic texts from the tannaitic period onward. A boisterous discussion among the Israeli and American graduate fellows and the professors in attendance regarding this question followed the presentation.
After the discussion of the utility of understanding Jewish legal texts in light of legal realism , Hanina Ben-Menahem gave a presentation on the philosophical bases of American legal realism. Framing his talk around a passage from Wittgenstein, “No course of action can be determined by a rule, because every course of action can be made out to accord with the rule,” Ben-Menahem attempted to use this cryptic sentence to understand legal realism’s philosophical underpinnings. Ben-Menahem’s remarks led to a lively discussion among the attendants of the seminar. This discussion was followed by a number of presentations, in Hebrew and English, by Israeli and American graduate fellows of the CJL. On the 27th, Ben-Menahem gave a presentation on the attitude of Jewish law toward gentile law. Following this talk, a number of Israeli and American graduate fellows presented papers on their work.
The conference was a wonderful way to conclude a productive, energetic, intellectually-stimulating year – the first year of the Israeli graduate fellowship and the fourth year of the American graduate fellowship – and to allow the Israeli and American fellows to meet, mingle, and move toward the creation of an international academic community.
Graduate Conference: 2009 - 2010
CJL co-sponsors an annual international graduate conference with Tel-Aviv University Law School devoted to interdisciplinary methodology and the study of Jewish texts. The conference, which is held in alternate years in either Jerusalem or New York City, brings together CJL’s second-year Graduate Fellows and PhD students in Jewish law in Israel for a forum on how legal theory can inform our study of Jewish texts, particularly Jewish legal texts. The aim of the conference is to explore, in a self-conscious way, the assumptions that we posit when reading texts, and the ways in which legal theory can provide a vocabulary for apprehending different methodologies in the study of Jewish texts. Conference sessions alternate between discussions of seminal articles or important primary texts in the fields of Jewish studies or Jewish law, and graduate student papers, all with an eye towards exposing the core methodological questions raised by this scholarship.
The 2009-2010 conference will take place on April 25-26, 2010, at Cardozo Law School.
Graduate Conference: 2008 - 2009
In November 2008, Suzanne Stone and five of the CJL second-year Graduate Fellows joined Professors Arye Edrei (Tel Aviv Law School) and Hanina Ben-Menahem (Hebrew University) and five of their doctoral students for the first annual International Graduate Conference in Jewish Law and Legal Theory. Co-sponsored by CJL and Tel Aviv University, this inaugural conference focused on the methodological questions raised by integrating the disciplines of Jewish law and legal theory.
Professors Ben-Menahem and Edrei, both of whom have served terms at the CJL as the Meyer Visiting Scholar in Comparative Jewish Law, have collaborated with Professor Stone on various projects. At a pre-conference dinner, the three professors commented upon the unprecedented nature of the academic partnership facilitated by this conference. The Israeli faculty and students bring the perspective of their primarily Israel-based field, Mishpat Ivri, the academic study of Jewish law in the context of the modern Israeli legal system. CJL faculty and graduate fellows bring the perspectives of the American academy and Anglo-American legal theory. Bringing these multiple approaches into conversation, and discussing the methodological implications of such discourse, is a significant first step to deeper and longer-lasting relationships and interdisciplinary collaborations.
For CJL’s graduate fellows, the conference is the culmination of their experience in the graduate fellowship program. In the first year seminar, they became acquainted with the landmark texts of legal theory, but did not yet grasp how to apply such an alien area of inquiry to the study of history, rabbinics, or Jewish thought. The conference, with its focus on methodology and application, was an important step toward understanding how to apply legal theory to the graduate students’ respective disciplines.
Each of the graduate students, Israeli and American, presented a paper-in-progress. Topics included: “Rational Reconstruction in the Study of Misphat Ivri” by Benny Porat (HU); “Anonymity and Canonicity in the Bavli: An Analysis of the Elements of the v’la pligi Structure” by Joshua Eisen (Columbia); “The Invisible Car: Ha‘arama as Fraud” by Elana Stein (Columbia); “The ish [Person] or the Issue: Analyzing the Legal Thinking of the Posek” by Hila Ben-Eliyahu (HU); “The Ambiguities of Rabbinic Activism” by Alexander Kaye (Columbia); “Contemporary Halakha Coping with New Phenomena: The Attitudes of Halakha Toward International Law” by Amos Israel (Tel Aviv); “Peshat and Derash: The Two Dimensions of Rabbinic Interpretation” by Ari Bergmann (Columbia); “Comparing the Halakhic and Philosophical Writings of Maimonides: Methodological Reflections” by Michael Baris (HU).
On both days of the conference, there was a morning session devoted to an academic debate (between Jewish historians, and between scholars of Mishpat Ivri). The morning discussion probed the methodological problems that affect scholars who approach the same material (Jewish legal texts) from different perspectives. The afternoons were devoted to student presentations followed by a few hours of seminar-style discussions of methodological problems presented by the research problem in question. The lively, challenging and collegial conversations helped build a community of young scholars interested in similar types of interdisciplinary inquiry. Students subsequently reflected that the conversations had significantly helped clarify their research questions and their various complications, in addition to suggesting useful steps for how to advance the projects.