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Jewish law institute launched in DC


Jewish legal experts have created a new institute that will educate jurists and others about 2,000 years of Jewish law and promote the application of the teachings to contemporary legal disputes and other modern-day issues.

The launch of the Washington-based National Institute for Judaic Law was marked Tuesday night with a kosher dinner at the Supreme Court attended by 200 people, including three Supreme Court Justices - Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, and Antonin Scalia.

US President George W. Bush sent greetings and applauded the institute for promoting an "understanding of Judaism's rich tradition of legal thought."

"As we face new challenges and welcome new opportunities, our society must continue to promote good character and strong values. Through the study and teaching of Jewish law and philosophy you are contributing to a growing culture of service, citizenship, and responsibility in America," Bush wrote.

Scalia, in a letter to the institute's founder, Noson Gurary, wrote that "Jewish law is certainly one of the oldest and most highly developed systems" and explained why the comparative study of legal traditions was beneficial.

"The idea is to make Jewish law more accessible to everyone," said Washington lawyer Alyza Lewin. Both Lewin and her father Nathan Lewin are helping establish the institute.

Last year, Alyza Lewin filed a brief to the Supreme Court based on the Talmud's take on capital punishment when the court was readying to hear a case on the constitutionality of the electric chair.

"Legal scholars often like to know what other legal traditions have said about certain issues," said Alyza Lewin.

Filing that kind of opinion is only part of the institute's mandate.

It will also promote the teaching of Jewish law, develop curricula on Jewish law that can be integrated into traditional law school courses, and serve as a resource for anyone wanting to know what the vast Jewish legal tradition has to say on various issues.

The institute's first project, already underway, explores how Jewish law can be applied to modern-day issues surrounding corporate ethics, an idea spurred by the recent corporate scandals involving Enron and Worldcom.

Gurary, who teaches at the State University of New York at Buffalo, thought up the idea of the institute about nine months ago.

"By demonstrating the philosophy of Jewish law and its moral values, we can bring a little beacon of light in this world," Gurary said.

"I think this is what we need now, in this day and age."
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