The Graduate Fellowship in Jewish Studies and Legal Theory, a project of the Consortium in Jewish Studies and Legal Theory, 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 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,
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.
Beginning with the 2019-20 academic year, the Graduate Fellowship will be offered as an intensive two-week seminar. The inaugural meeting of the Summer Seminar on Jewish Legal and Political Thought will take place at The Jewish Theological Seminary from Monday, August 3, 2020 through Friday, August 14. The seminar will be run by Professors Leora Batnitzky (Ronald O. Perelman Professor of Jewish Studies; Professor of Religion, Princeton University), Yonatan Brafman (Assistant Professor of Jewish Thought and Ethics, Jewish Theological Seminary of America), and Suzanne Last Stone (University Professor of Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization, Yeshiva University; Professor of Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law), with a guest presentation by Professor Christine Hayes (Robert F. and Patricia Ross Weis Professor of Religious Studies, Yale University). Between 10 and 12 students in Jewish Studies, Religious Studies, or related fields will be selected to participate through a competitive application process. Graduate students will be given priority, but we welcome applications from advanced undergraduates.
Fellows will receive an honorarium of $1,000 plus a $250 travel stipend. A limited supply of housing is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The intensive seminar considers two basic questions. First, how have political and historical developments, along with historical debates in political and legal theories, shaped the ways in which Jews have understood law, politics, and religion? And second, how might internal Jewish debates about Jewish law contribute to and challenge modern conceptions of law, politics, and religion? The seminar will consider these questions from historical, normative, and jurisprudential perspectives. Particular topics include: the meaning and purpose of law, authority in law versus the authority of law, historical consciousness and legal change, centralized versus non-centralized legal systems, and the role of the modern nation state in modern conceptions of politics, law, and religion. We will focus on a range of primary and secondary sources from the first century until today. Topics will include but are not limited to:
- Law and politics (law and power, including law within and outside of the state, centralized and decentralized law);
- the purpose and meaning of law (legal formalism, conceptualism, positivism, and natural law);
- authority (of law and within law);
- Legal change (common versus civil law systems; historical consciousness and law)
Texts will include but are not limited to:
Spinoza, Maimonides, Mendelssohn, Weber, Schmitt, Gadamer, Austin, Hart, Dworkin, as well as an array of classical Jewish sources and contemporary authors.
Applications are due by January 1, 2020 and should be submitted to Ari Mermelstein at email@example.com. Letters of recommendation should be directed to the same email address.
The Seminar is a project of the Consortium on Jewish Studies and Legal Theory, a partnership among Cardozo Law School, Columbia University, The Jewish Theological Seminary, NYU, Princeton, and Yale.
1. 1–2 page outline of the applicant’s research interests and how the subject matter of the seminar would help advance their scholarly work.
2. Current Resume
3. Two letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation should be submitted electronically by the recommender to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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."
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.
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.
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.