2017-2018 Conferences

 The Talmud and Western History, Politics, and Law: A Conference in Celebration of the Translation of the Talmud Into Italian
October 25, 2017

“The Talmud and Western History, Politics and Law: A Conference in Celebration of the Translation of the Talmud into Italian” will celebrate the first ever translation of the Talmud into Italian. Funded by the Italian government and chaired by the chief rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, the translation project is a collaboration of a broad-based consortium that includes the government, the National Research Council, the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, and the Italian Rabbinical College. Scholars on three continents used specially developed, made-in-Italy software to aid in their translation. Tractate Rosh HaShana was published in Rome in 2017, and the complete Italian translation should be completed in eight more years.

Keynote addresses by YU President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman and Rabbi Di Segni will precede a presentation by Professor Clelia Piperno, Project Director and Chair of the Project’s Board of Directors, outlining the results of the translation project. The conference will conclude with academic panels devoted to the contribution of the Talmud to legal and political thought in both historical and contemporary contexts.

The conference is being co-sponsored by the Israeli Supreme Court Project and the Yeshiva University Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

The conference is free and open to the public, but advance registration is required. To register, email iscp@yu.edu.





Melanie Leslie, Dean, Cardozo School of Law


Keynote Speeches

Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, President, Yeshiva University

Riccardo Shemuel Di Segni, Chief Rabbi of Rome

Chair, Michael Herz, Arthur Kaplan Professor of Law, Cardozo School of Law


The Italian Translation of the Talmud Project in Perspective

Clelia Piperno, University of Rome, La Sapienza School of Law, and Director and Board Chair, Italian Translation of the Talmud Project


Academic Panels


Panel One


This panel will address the history of the reception of the Talmud in Europe, from medieval attempts to suppress the Talmud to the turn to the Talmud as a resource for early modern European political thought.




David Berger, Ruth & I. Lewis Gordon Professor of Jewish History and Dean of Bernard Revel School of Jewish Studies, Yeshiva University

Alberto Melloni,  Professor of History of Christianity, the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, UNESCO Chair for Religious Pluralism and Peace, and Director of the Fondazione per le Scienze Religiose Giovanni XXIII, Bologna

Eric Nelson, Robert M. Beren Professor of Government, Harvard University

Chair, Susanna Mancini, Professor and Chair in Comparative Constitutional Law, University of Bologna


Panel Two


This panel will address contemporary turns to the Talmud as a resource for thinking about law in Europe, Israel, and the United States.


Arye Edrei, Professor, University of Tel Aviv Law School

Mario Patrono, Emeritus, University of Rome, La Sapienza School of Law

Suzanne Last Stone, University Professor of Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization, Yeshiva University, Professor of Law, Cardozo School of Law, and Director, Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization

Chair, Michel Rosenfeld, University Professor of Law and Comparative Democracy and Justice Sydney L. Robins Professor of Human Rights, Cardozo School of Law

2016-2017 Conferences

 The Study of Law and History: Bridging Methodological and Disciplinary Divides
September 25-26, 2016

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, 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 begun to trickle into the study of religious legal traditions, but not in a systematic way. For theological reasons, religious legal systems often resist the belief that law is a specimen of history, a belief that scholars have increasingly challenged. Conference presentations will both document the attitude toward history on the part of religious law and authorities as well as the link between history and law in these traditions.

Scholars of western and religious legal traditions have much to learn from each other on the subject of law and history. The former bring greater methodological sophistication to the subject while the latter bring additional case studies from traditions whose attitude to history is not always the same as in western traditions. By bringing together scholars of western and religious legal tradition, this conference will deepen our understanding about attitudes toward history within the law and the various ways in which the two disciplines are linked. An important aim of the conference is thus for lawyers and historians to become more deeply acquainted with each other’s methodologies and begin to bridge some of the gaps between them.

The following is an illustrative sampling of questions that we conference presenters will consider:


  1. In analyzing a normative practice, should we take an internal perspective, focusing on the attitudes and perceptions of the subjects themselves, or an external perspective, focusing on the historical, social, economic, and cultural factors that leave a mark on practice? Where lies the boundary between legal change and doctrinal development?
  2. What is the relationship of politics and power and law? Can law be reduced to politics and power, as the school of Critical Legal Studies contends? Is law simply a discursive practice, as Foucauldians asserts? Can legal reasoning and doctrine be regarded as “rational,” or are they too arbitrary to be considered anything more than manifestations of power relations?
  3. How can legal history be studied as a form of intellectual history?
  4. What is the interplay between law as prescribed and law as practiced in legal history and in the emergence and development of legal practice?
  5. Phenomenological approaches: What is legal consciousness? Is there such a thing?
  6. How do legal historians conceptualize change? How are their approaches different from those of legal scholars on the one hand and social historians on the other?
  7. Can legal sources betray historical consciousness?
  8. How do we periodize legal history?
  9. What are the attitudes toward time within legal traditions?
  10. Does law betray historical consciousness?
  11. How can legal historians contribute to our understanding of the divide separating elite from popular culture?

2013-2014 Conferences


Law and Emotion in Comparative Perspective

April 27-28, 2014

This conference grows out of the burgeoning interest among American legal scholars in the role of emotions in the conception of law and justice. This emerging, interdisciplinary perspective has offered an alternative account to the perceived incompatibility of emotion with law. Among its foundational assumptions, this school assumes that knowledge does not derive from pure rationality but also that emotions contain a distinct cognitive element.

The cognitive approach is closely related to the social-constructionist perspective on emotion. This school views emotions as culturally-conditioned expressions of norms, values, and beliefs. According to scholars of this persuasion, emotions play a purposive role by serving to eliminate unwanted attitudes and behavior and to endorse positive values. Members of a community develop an awareness of which social situations warrant an emotion where its display would confirm a person’s acceptance of the cultural values implicated in such situations.

The link between emotions and cultural norms suggests that emotions have an important role to play in a legal system. Legal norms identify for its subjects which objects are worthy of fear, which behavior should arouse shame or anger, which people deserve to be loved, hated, or pitied, and who or what are so worthless as to merit disgust. Correct displays of emotion by those living under the law will then serve to endorse the law or, alternatively, to challenge it. At the same time, the law does not only shape emotions but is itself shaped by prevailing emotional dispositions. Alongside the interdisciplinary field of law and emotion, much work has been done recently on the place of emotion in religion, and many of the questions that legal scholars pose also surface among religionists.

This conference will adopt a comparative perspective to the field of law and emotion, with participants drawn from both legal and religious studies. Religionists will represent a range of religious traditions, including the Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Classicists, many of whom have done pioneering work on emotion, will likewise contribute.

The following is a sampling of questions that will emerge from conference sessions:


1.      Which emotions does law endorse or ban?

2.      Does the law attempt to induce specific emotions in its subjects?

3.      What assumptions about the individual and his/her interactions with society can be culled from the emotional element of law?

4.      Are emotions primary or constructed and reinforced by law?

5.      If law can shape the cognitive element of emotions, what can the emotional realm reveal about the values and preferences embodied by the law?

6.      How do emotions interact with non-emotional cognitions to produce legal judgments and arguments?

7.      How does law mark off emotions from the rest of individual experience?

8.      Does law “script” emotions for its subjects and, if it does, how do those scripts intersect with questions of culture, social structure, and gender? 

2012-2013 Conferences

 March 10-11, 2013


 February 10, 2013
 The YU Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and the Leonard and Bea Diener Institute of Jewish Law will be hosting a day-long symposium on “The Rationales of the Commandments (Ta’amei ha-Mitzvot) in Historical Perspective” on Sunday, February 10, 9:30am-5:15pm, at Cardozo Law School (55 Fifth Avenue, NY, NY). Attendance is free, but advance registration is required.

2011-2012 Conferences

 April 29-May 1, 2012


 February 5-6, 2012
 The idea of the courtroom conjures up dual images in the imagination.  On the one hand, a courtroom is an overly familiar place. The form and function of the courtroom permeates contemporary Western culture in fiction and film.  The inner-workings of the courtroom make many appearances in the news, which regularly highlights “trials of the decade” and “trials of the century” as well as more common, less prestigious courtroom advocacy and customs.  In fact, a working knowledge of the courtroom has, in America at least, historically come hand and hand with the very concept of citizenship.  Thus, many of the seminal Supreme Court cases arguing for equal citizenship – for women, for African-Americans – took as their basis the right to sit on a jury of their peers. 
 In Western thought, the image of the courtroom has often run in tandem – if not outright taken the place of – the image of justice.  The impurity and injustice of the outside world falls away – at least theoretically – in the warm confines of the courtroom.  This comforting familiarity of the courtroom is at the same time belied by the often ominous proceedings that take place within it. The courtroom is a place of justice, yes.  But it is also one of anger, of tears, of passion and of betrayal.  Far from being a space of comfort and familiarity – the courtroom becomes a place where petitioners and defendants leave the normal confines of their daily lives as well as, perhaps, their physical selves.  Leaving their routine, litigants force themselves into a separate space, perhaps a sacred space, in which the very decrees of life and death, of innocent and guilty, carry existential meaning.
 Like the physical courtroom of the Western world, the divine courtroom can be seen as a space both unique and ordinary, at once foreign and familiar.  The image of God as judge and the divine court as the place of judgment is so ubiquitous in religious literature as to have become almost rote.  At the same time, the concepts underlying those familiar images are foreign to the daily experience of the non-jurist.  Moreover, while in theory the concept of a God presiding over a divine courtroom is comforting in its sense of order and control, in practice the divine courtroom has the potential to be somewhat terrifying.  The courtroom in religious literature is the place in which God is often found to arbitrate and eventually mete out ultimate justice.  As in the physical courtrooms of the Western world, the divine courtroom is the space in which life and death is decided, where merits and offenses are discovered and tallied. 
 While the divine courtroom is certainly the space where God is envisioned as pronouncing judgment upon mankind, the legal space of the divine courtroom also has the potential to take on a reverse role.  According to Meira Kensky’s work on the divine courtroom in early Jewish and Christian thought, it is in the divine courtroom that the worshiper strives “to vindicate God from charges of injustice and inequity”.  The divine courtroom, then, is not simply the place where God judges man.  It is also the space – perhaps the only place – where man has the opportunity to advocate before, as well as, perhaps, arbitrate against God.  The divine courtroom, then, is the space where man and God meet.  In this sense, the divine courtroom is a locus of power and religious authority, not simply for God, but also for man.
 The possibility for justice in the divine courtroom, like that in the Western courthouse, is also an open question.  In biblical works such as Job, God’s courtroom becomes the place where the destruction of a saintly life is germinated, where the accuser is given free reign by a complicit Judge to torment the defendant.  In this sense, the divine courtroom can also represent those less laudable physical courtrooms which, throughout history, have persistently twisted the law for unjust purposes.
 This conference will consider the idea of the divine courtroom broadly, in both its historical and thematic senses.  In the historical sense, the conference will, to some degree, trace the progress of the divine courtroom idea from its earliest manifestations in the ancient Near East through its ramifications for contemporary adjudicatory systems.  Thematically, the conference will consider the many, perhaps conflicting images of the divine courtroom as well as the relationship(s) of the divine courtroom to the physical sphere.

2009-2010 Conferences

 February 21-22, 2010
 Political theology is a mode of inquiry that understands the modern period as incompletely secularized. Theology has been adapted, reworked, and translated for secular use, but its hold on the political imagination remains strong. Although the Enlightenment and the rise of Western political liberalism attempted to keep the public, political sphere completely secular while relegating religion to the private sphere, political theology argues that modern political systems have reoccupied the space that was one held by religious and theological systems. With the rise of political Islam abroad, and the increasing political power of the Christian Right in the United States, the exploration of the theological roots of the political imagination takes on great contemporary significance. Political theology, however, has been primarily concerned with ancient and medieval conceptions of the City of God and the theological polity, due to its links to Western political nationalism after the fall of Christendom. In an age of political and religious globalization, there is a pressing need to bring non-Christian religions into these conversations.
 Scholars have, for the most part, studied the impact of theology on our contemporary political commitments, but much less attention has been paid to the theological underpinnings of secular legal systems. Yet, a small but growing body of literature on legal theology has demonstrated that both in its origins and in its content, Western law preserves and reoccupies spaces once held by God, revelation, prophets and priests. The increasing presence of religion in the public square, both in the United States and abroad, has led to a rethinking of time-honored understandings of the relationship between religion, theology, and law. In an age in which political globalization has been accompanied by legal globalization, there is a need not only for disparate studies of political and legal theology, but to bring political theology and legal theology into productive conversation with one another.
 Political theology is of particular interest to constitutional lawyers because of its insights on sovereignty, particularly the power of the sovereign to create an exception. As Ernst Kantorowicz demonstrated in his magisterial book, The King’s Two Bodies, law and theology are inseparable when theorizing about the place of the sovereign in a political system.
 This conference aims to begin this new comparative and interdisciplinary conversation in political and legal theology. Classical Judaism, a religion with a rich legal tradition as well as a fascinating political tradition, will serve as an entry-point into this conversation. Furthermore, an entirely new dimension is opened when considering political and legal theology in the context of the rise of Zionism and the development of the Jewish state, which aims to be both Jewish and Western liberal, both politically and legally. The significance of political and legal theology in the context of Zionism is especially highlighted by the rise of modern utopian religious movements in Israel, particularly over the last three decades, that have political aspirations.
 Studying Jewish political and legal theology can expand the scope of the field of political theology, both by bringing political theology into conversation with legal theology, and by expanding the inquiry to a non-Christian religion. Panels will be devoted to the various ways in which Jewish conceptions of the legal and political domains can be understood in a theological context. Commentators on each panel will be drawn from the disciplines of law and political theory, and will attempt to tease out the significance of a Jewish political and legal theology for our contemporary understandings of law and politics. In addition, the conference will feature separate comparative panels that will focus on political and legal theology in the context of the political and legal theory of the Christian, Muslim, and secular Western traditions.

2007-2008 Conferences

 March 16-17, 2008
 Modern biblical scholarship has done an exemplary job of unearthing the meaning and significance of the Hebrew Bible in its historical context, and careful philological study has illuminated much about the world of the Bible and its place in the literature of the ancient Near East. However, the methodology practiced by modern biblicists is fundamentally opposed to that preferred by faith communities, which turn to the Bible for its capacity to guide, inspire, and instruct.
 Today, there is a new appreciation for the riches that diverse religious traditions contribute to modern thought and of the importance of religion in global politics. In this new intellectual and political climate, American constitutional law theorists, as well as political and legal theorists, are increasingly turning to the Bible as a valuable asset for modern thought. Their readings have spotlighted the Bible as a resource for contemporary civilization generally, and not only for contemporary faith communities. The use of the Bible by this school has enriched the fields of political theory, legal theory, and philosophy, and has contributed a fascinating dimension to reflections on the burning issues of the day. Yet, the reasons for the emergence of the Bible in contemporary intellectual discourse and the various purposes to which it has been put have never been adequately explored.
 Panel one, "The Book of Genesis in Contemporary Intellectual Discourse," will introduce the primary theme of the conference by concentrating on the book of Genesis—a focal point in these discussions—and explore the various ways in which its narratives are understood by contemporary thinkers. Panel two, "The Bible as a Problem for Contemporary Intellectual Discourse," will take a broader view of the issues by considering the actual and potential contributions of the Bible to contemporary intellectual discourse. Panels three and four, devoted to the issues of political authority and war, sacrifice, and personal autonomy, will serve as case studies for the contribution of the Bible to contemporary intellectual discourse. Panel five, "Comparative Reflections," will expand the discussion to encompass the New Testament and Qur'an and consider how the biblical traditions of Christianity and Islam have been assimilated in contemporary intellectual discourse.

2006-2007 Conferences

 October 22-24, 2006
 In conjunction with the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Fordham Law School’s Institute on Religion, Law and Lawyer’s Work, Harvard Law School’s Program on the Legal Profession, and New York Law School’s Center for Professional Values and Practice, Cardozo Law School’s Program in Jewish Law & Interdisciplinary Studies will host a three-day conference devoted to “Jews and the Legal Profession,” October 22-24, 2006 in New York City. The conference will emphasize the impact of American Jewish lawyers on the American legal profession, investigating a story that, to our knowledge, has yet to be told. In particular, we will engage the question of whether Jewishness makes a difference and, if so, whether the distinctive voice of Jews in the legal profession is attributable to Jewish tradition or history. We also will pay special attention to the role that Jews and other groups have played in transforming American law firms from fraternal legacies to corporate entities.
 Made possible by support from the David Berg foundation, the conference will explore two major themes. The first is how the Jewish experience, with all its variations, compares to that of other groups of new entrants to the legal profession. [For example, we seek to understand what the history and sociology of the African-American law firm reveal about the ambitions and constraints that characterized racially or ethnically defined law firms and law practices.] The second theme is the well-documented resonance of Jews with the practice and ideals of American law. Jewish lawyers and law firms have been prominent in many areas of private practice, in government service, and in public interest law. Law and secular authority have also changed Jewish identity in ways that may not have been entirely welcome and remain, we argue, less than fully understood.
 The thread running through the conference’s various panels is the question of whether there is something distinctive about the Jewish experience in the legal profession, and if yes, why and in what way. Approaching the question of “why” from a cultural perspective, the opening panel will consider the identification of Jews with legalism in general through two prisms: both the affinity of Jews with the law and the anti-Semitism that this association has inspired. With panel two, the conference will begin to consider what has been particularly noteworthy and possibly distinctive about Jewish forms of lawyering. Panel two will examine one aspect of this question, namely the entanglement of Jewish lawyering with politics and certain conceptions of justice. Panels three and four will look at the impact of Jews on the culture of the American law firm. In particular, these panels will consider the relationship between the entry of Jews into law firms and the transformation of these firms from basically closed clubs into professional entities. Alongside academic presentations, these panels will feature personal recollections of some of the lawyers who participated in this transformation. Panel six will consider whether the emergence of lawyers in the role as advocates for Jews and Jewish causes represents a distinctive form of legal activism. Panel five will focus on Jewish and other minority lawyers abroad, a line of inquiry that will shed light on the nature of American Jewish lawyering. Finally, panel seven will consider the impact of Jews on the way in which law is thought about and conceptualized, again asking the question of whether Jewishness has had a role in these developments.
 This interdisciplinary conference will contribute a new understanding of the historical and sociological roots of discrimination, the rise and re-creation of professional elites in the law, and the emergence of modern legal structures in response to Jewish claims to full participation and membership in American society. The conference will thus interest practitioners and academics alike because it both addresses themes central to the state of the bar today and engages those themes historically and empirically.

2005-2006 Conferences

 May 22-24, 2006
 The Program in Jewish Law & Interdisciplinary Studies will convene a conference on the relationship between halakhah and aggadah on May 22-May 24, 2005. The conference, jointly sponsored by the Gruss Chair of Talmudic Civil Law at the Harvard Law School and the Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard University, will be held on the Harvard campus. Participants in the conference will include specialists in Jewish law from Israel and the United States, American law professors, and American academics from other disciplines.
 The topic of this conference should appeal to a broad spectrum of scholars, including those interested in the relationship of law to literature and to moral values, as well as those interested in Jewish texts. The output of the formative rabbinic period is traditionally divided into two categories: the legal tradition, or halakhah, consisting of concrete laws and legal analysis, and the aggadah. The aggadah takes various forms, such as narratives, folktales, stories of exemplary lives or events, homilies, and scriptural commentary. Its subject matter spans history, theology, cosmology, jurisprudence, and moral or ethical principles not concretized as normative law. Although many aggadot are preserved in separate compilations, aggadot also appear within the heart of the legal corpus, including the Mishnah, the Talmud, and Maimonides’s Code of Law. Indeed, a substantial portion of the Babylonian Talmud consists of aggadic material. The aggadah has been the subject of much fascination over the years and has been studied from literary, theological, and historical perspectives. Far less attention, however, has been paid to the legal dimensions of aggadah, on which we will focus. 
 Each of the main sessions will proceed with study in small groups of selected texts (available in translation). We will then meet together in joint session and proceed to discuss the texts more broadly with a leader. Sessions at the conference will be devoted to the following topics: legal themes within the aggadah other than for the purpose of declaring norms; the geonic interdiction on deriving laws from the aggadot, counter-examples to that principle, and implications for legal theory; cases where aggadot may function as implicit dissents, case studies, or legal hypotheticals; aggadot within Maimonides’s Code of Law; the aggadic use of legal forms and metaphors; and a panel discussion of comparative parallels, focusing on issues of law and literature in Islamic law, Canon law, and American law.

2004-2005 Conferences

 October 10-12, 2004
 Cardozo’s Program in Jewish Law and Interdisciplinary Studies will host its inaugural event on October 10-12, 2004, a conference entitled “Text, Tradition, and Reason in Comparative Perspective.” The conference, co-sponsored by the Cardozo Law Review, will investigate the complex relationship between text, tradition, and reason, and their competing claims to authority, in both law and religion. The conference is predicated on the view that both legal and religious interpretive practices share a common structure and face common dilemmas over the respective weight assigned to a foundational text, tradition, and reason. Participants will compare the interplay of text, tradition, and reason within the American Constitutional tradition and the three major monotheistic religions, as well as in Confucianism. In order to foster an interdisciplinary dialogue, participants include scholars from the fields of law, religious studies, history, philosophy, sociology, and anthropology.
 The conference will consist of three panels. In the first, participants will explore the justifications advanced on behalf of traditional authority, with particular emphasis on how traditional authority represents itself within religious and legal traditions. In the second panel, participants will examine the relationship between interpretive practices and political contests, both in terms of the political reality in which interpretation is embedded as well as the ways in which the external influence of politics and the internal dynamics of an interpretive tradition interface. In the third panel, participants will examine the various ways in which traditional authority apprehends time.