The Consortium in Jewish Studies and Legal Theory will begin receiving applications for its 2015-2016 Graduate Fellowship, a forum for the interdisciplinary exchange of ideas between legal academia and Judaic studies, on April 1, 2015. 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.
For profiles of current and past classes of fellows, click here.
1. Completed application form. Applications should be submitted electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Current Resume
3. Letter of recommendation from a professor with whom you work closely (preferably your advisor). Letters of recommendation should be submitted electronically by the recommender to email@example.com.
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.