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(12/06/2002)                      Send this articlePrint this Article                  Send this articleSend this article
Jewish Law Comes to D.C.
James D. Besser

What does the Talmud have to say about legal and moral controversies in modern America?

Plenty, according to the creators of the new Washington-based National Institute for Judaic Law, which opened with a lavish Supreme Court dinner last month.

Some 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 America.”

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 Jewish law.”

“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 in Washington.

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.

Alyza Lewin noted that “the idea is to make Jewish law accessible to the public — to jurists, legal scholars, the press, anybody.”

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