Zionism and Law
March 10-11, 2013
The Rationales of the Commandments (Ta‘amei ha-Mitzvot) in Historical Perspective
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.
Click here to view the conference schedule. (hyperlink to pdf labeled “the rationales of the commandments”)
Halakha and Reality
April 29-May 1, 2012
The Divine Courtroom in Comparative Perspective
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.
Click here to view the conference schedule. (hyperlink to pdf labeled “divine courtroom”)
Political and Legal Theology in Comparative Perspective
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.
Click here to view the conference schedule. (hyperlink to pdf labeled “political theology conference”)
The Hebrew Bible in Contemporary Intellectual Discourse
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.
Click here to view the conference schedule. (hyperlink to pdf labeled “Hebrew bible conference pdf”)
Jews and the Legal Profession
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.
To download conference program, click here (hyperlink to document “jews in the legal profession conference”).
Halakhah and Aggadah in Comparative Perspective
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.
Text, Tradition, and Reason in Comparative Perspective
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.
For the conference program, including a list of participants, click here.