What does the Talmud have to say about legal and
moral controversies in modern America?
according to the creators of the new Washington-based
National Institute for Judaic Law, which opened with a
lavish Supreme Court dinner last month.
Orthodox activists say they can’t figure out exactly the
point of the whole thing. But Noson Gurary, a Lubavitch
rabbi who came up with the idea and won backing from
some top Jewish legal experts, harbors no doubts.
“It will be an eye opener for judges, scholars
and law students,” he told The Jewish Week. “Before you
know where you’re going, you have to know where you came
from. And Jewish law is the basis of our legal system in
Gurary said that the idea for the
institute came in an exchange of letters in which
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most
conservative Justices, expressed his “fascination with
“And as a teacher of Judaic
studies, I began to see the excitement of students who
were being exposed to Jewish law for the first time, who
now had a better understanding of where Western law come
from,” Gurary said.
Gurary, who teaches at the
University of Buffalo law school, said his target
audience includes judges around the country and law
students, not politicians and lawmakers.
According to Gurary, the group, which has hired
two researchers to compile reports, will focus initially
on the issue of business ethics. Eventually, the goal is
to compile a library and database in Washington that
will offer Jewish law insights into a host of
contemporary issues and to help create courses on the
subject at law schools nationwide. The institute will
also inaugurate a monthly lunch series for legal machers
The Buffalo rabbi is a relative
unknown in the Jewish world. Not so some of the
participants in the new project, including Harvard Law
School professor Alan Dershowitz, former U.S. Solicitor
General Seth Waxman and top constitutional lawyer Nathan
Lewin and his law-partner/daughter, Alyza.
Lewin noted that “the idea is to make Jewish law
accessible to the public — to jurists, legal scholars,
the press, anybody.”