Mission Statement

I. Premise

Through a generous donation from The Tikvah Fund, New York University School of Law has founded The Tikvah Center for Law & Jewish Civilization.  The Center, to be situated at 22 Washington Square, will formally open its doors in academic year 2009/2010.  The foundational premise of the Center is 1) that the study of Jewish law can profit immensely from insights gained from general jurisprudence; and 2) that Jewish law and Jewish civilization can provide illuminating perspectives both on the general study of law as a per se academic discipline, and on the reflection on law as a central social institution refracting the most important issues in our society. The Center furthers its mission by offering programs advancing Scholarship, Legal Education, and Policy and Programmatic Studies as well as a broad outreach program to undergraduates.

There are many distinguished institutions dedicated to the study of Jewish Law, both historically and as it applies to contemporary problems.  Although Jewish Law is central to its activities, The Tikvah Center does not intend to be counted amongst the ranks of such institutions. Instead, its mission is informed by the following propositions.

Law, like medicine, is often understood as a professional vocation.  But the cluster of Law, Jurisprudence & Justice has long been one of the central disciplines tied to the broader idea of the University. Additionally, in contemporary America and increasingly in other countries, the major challenges, fissures and conflicts in the political, social and economic spheres of the polity are refracted through the law, and often are expressed as issues of legal policy.  Resolution is frequently sought in and by the courts. Church and State, abortion, the balance between security concerns and civil liberties, corporate accountability, gay marriage, and global warming are among the more current visible illustrations of this proposition. All these issues have sharp legal edges which often define the parameters of public reflection, discussion and, indeed, conflict. To comment on “The Law” – broadly understood – is to comment on our most pressing social and political agenda.

We understand Jewish civilization broadly. Surely, Nomos, Torah and Halakha have been and continue to be primordial in the Jewish experience. Indeed, in the comprehensive entanglement of law and life, Judaism antedates our more contemporary experience.  However, it would be reductive and limiting to define the parameters of Jewish civilization within legal confines, important and broad as the worlds of Torah and Halakha are. Correspondingly, it would be equally reductive and limiting to define the canon of the Great Texts and great thinkers of Jewish civilization to the canon of Halakhik and Rabbinical texts – important as these are. Jewish civilization, in its long history, is far broader. If we consider, by way of illustration, the 20th Century, in our conception of Jewish civilization, Buber, Rosenzweig, Agnon, and Levinas are as important as, for instance, Kook, Feinstein or Heschel. It is this broad understanding of Jewish Law and civilization which informs the identity of the Center.

The Law Faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Israel is a strategic partner of The Tikvah Center.

II. Programs

The exploration of Law and Jewish civilization, the principal mission of the Center, takes place through the following programs.

Scholarship – The Fellowship and Affiliates Programs

The Center hosts, on an annual basis, six Fellows who spend a ten month Fellowship working on individual scholarly projects, which coincide with the Center’s intellectual orientation.  The projects apply the insights, sensibilities, normative considerations and experiences of Jewish civilization to law and legal issues of significant scholarly and social value. This effort is meant to result in publication, by the Center as well as in learned journals and books, of scholarship of the highest quality.

In addition, some Fellows are asked to offer one seminar or course in the Master’s Program (see below) established by the Center, and eventually also to undergraduates. Fellows are of the highest quality, and selected on a competitive basis from applications received from all over the world, on the basis of their credentials and the compatibility of their research with the Center’s mission. Fellows receive a generous stipend, office space, working facilities and support from Center administrative staff. In addition to their individual research and teaching, Fellows are expected to contribute to the intellectual life of NYU School of Law, NYU as a whole, as well as the general community through various fora and an annual conference.

The Fellows in the Tikvah Center’s Inaugural Year in 2009/2010 are:

  • Yishai Beer, Professor of the Law of Taxation, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law, Israel
  • Beth Berkowitz, Assistant Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York
  • Rabbi Saul Berman, Director of Continuing Rabbinic Education at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, New York (Berkowitz Fellow)
  • Moshe Idel, Max Cooper Professor in Jewish Thought, Hebrew University, Israel (Joint Fellow with The Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law & Justice)
  • James Kugel, Professor of Bible and Director of the Institute for the History of the Jewish Bible, Bar Ilan University, Israel
  • Avital Margalit, Professor of Property Law and the Sociology of Law, Bar Ilan University, Israel
  • Adiel Schremer, Associate Professor, Department of Jewish History, Bar-Ilan University and Head of the Halpern Center for the Study of Jewish Self-Perception, Israel
  • Aharon Shemesh, Associate Professor, Department of Talmud, Bar-Ilan University, Israel

The Center also serves as the intellectual home of the Berkowitz Fellowship Program and the Gruss Program at NYU Law School.

The Center associates scholars from NYU and other institutions of learning in New York as Affiliates, with a view to encouraging and facilitating scholarship by them in the field of Law & Jewish civilization, as well as enlisting their support in the learning programs of the Center. The first Affiliate, for the 2009/2010 Inaugural Year, is Christine Hayes, Professor of Religious Studies in Classical Judaica in the Department of Religious Studies at Yale University. The second Affiliate Scholar, beginning in the same year, is Suzanne Last Stone, Professor of Law and Director, Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.

Overall, the Fellowship and Affiliates Program serve to attain three meta-objectives:

  • To act as an incentive for emerging and established scholars to branch out to new academic endeavors geared towards Law & Jewish civilization.
  • To facilitate conversations among the Fellows and Affiliates during the year through workshops, seminars and intellectual synergies in the group which will enhance the quality of the scholarship produced, and also create lifelong networks among the past and present members of the Center.
  • To result in published scholarship which builds up to a significant repository of high quality work in the field, fueling and stimulating the interest of others.

Learning – the Master of Studies in Law in Law & Jewish Civilization, and the Undergraduate Outreach Program

The Master of Studies in Law in Law & Jewish Civilization Program

Under the auspices of The Tikvah Center, NYU School of Law will offer a Master of Studies in Law (MSL) degree in Law & Jewish Civilization, to begin in academic year 2010/2011. Critically, the MSL, unlike the more conventional LL.M., will not require a prior law degree.

The Center will attract applicants to the Master’s program from three groups:

  • Undergraduate students pursuing a Master’s degree to facilitate their entry into graduate studies, be it law or Judaic studies, or an eventual academic career.  This group would be offered the degree full-time over one year.
  • Working professionals such as practicing law graduates, doctors and businesspeople who want to undertake or return to Jewish learning.  This group would be offered the degree on a part-time basis over two years.
  • Graduates wishing to pursue a Ph.D. in Hebrew and Judaic Studies, offered by the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies in NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, for whom the MSL will count as the first year of the doctoral program.

The academic content of the degree consists of specially designed courses dedicated to the MSL program, a selection of other appropriate courses and seminars to be taken in the Law School and the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at NYU, and a Master’s Thesis on a topic in the area of Law & Jewish civilization. The degree will be a substantial and substantive accomplishment in its own right.  Students wishing to later seek entry into a Ph.D. program in Hebrew and Judaic Studies at NYU – or to go to Law School – will have an excellent platform from which to do so, and will receive guidance to those ends.  The MSL program has received approval from New York State, and the American Bar Association, and is planned to begin in academic year 2010-2011.

The Master’s Program will offer up to ten scholarships.  Students will be selected on a competitive basis, and the awarding of scholarships will be based on merit and need.  The Center will aim to have 10 – 20 students enrolled at any given time in the program. Students in future years will be able to spend part of the Master’s program with the Center’s Partner Institution in Israel, the Law Faculty of Bar-Ilan University.

Undergraduate Outreach Program

The Center designates courses in the field of Law & Jewish civilization, to be taught by its Directors, affiliated faculty from NYU, Bar-Ilan University, other institutions of learning in New York, and its annual Fellows to undergraduates both at NYU and eventually, through cross registration programs, undergraduates at other academic institutions in New York. Joseph Weiler will be teaching the first such course, entitled “Justice and Injustice in Biblical Narrative”. The course has been approved by the NYU College of Arts and Sciences to be taught in the academic year 2009/2010, in the Honors Program, and it is planned that in 2010/2011 it will open to mass enrollment.

It is expected that aspirant law students among the undergraduate population will be particularly interested in the Center’s learning program because of the subject matter of the courses offered, the legal qualifications of many of the teachers and the association with one of the leading Law Schools in the United States.

Policy – The Annual Conference on Law and Jewish Civilization

The Center will organize each year a high powered conference to discuss a discrete issue of public policy relevance which may be illuminated by the focus on Law & Jewish civilization.  Leading scholars and thinkers will be invited to address such issues as terrorism and civil liberties, religion as a parameter in international relations, the contemporary family and its discontents, etc. from a perspective of Jewish Law, Jewish learning and the Jewish experience.

The result of such a conference will be published with an eye to maximum resonance within the public sphere.

Outreach – The Undergraduate Summer Program

Together with its strategic partner, the Law Faculty of Bar-Ilan University, the Center will organize, starting from the second or third year of its operation, a residential Summer Program in which undergraduate students from around the country will enroll in intensive courses or seminars on the theme of Law and Jewish civilization. The courses and seminars will be designed in part to provide first and stimulating encounters between the students and the “greats” of the Jewish Canon in the context of contemporary social and political issues. They will be designed such that enrolled students, who will be self-funded at this stage, may earn credit for the undergraduate degrees in their respective institutions. Here, too, it is expected that the Summer Outreach program will be particularly attractive to aspiring law students from all over the United States. A summer program in Israel at Bar-Ilan will be integral to this initiative. The program will also work synergistically with the NYU in Tel Aviv study abroad program.

III. Leadership, Governance & Administration

Staff:

In addition to the two Faculty Directors, the Affiliates and the annual Fellows, the Center has an executive director and supporting administrative staff.

Oversight:

The Directors of the Center report to the Dean of NYU School of Law.

The Directors sit as members of, and are assisted by, an Advisory Board currently composed of the following persons:

Richard Revesz, Dean of NYU School of Law (ex officio)
Roger Hertog, Chairman, The Tikvah Fund (ex officio)
Eric Cohen, The Tikvah Fund (ex officio)
Rabbi Saul Berman
Professor David Berger
Professor Peter Berkowitz
Professor Ruth Gavison
Professor Jack Wertheimer
Professor Yaffa Zilbershatz

Partnerships:

The Faculty of Law of Bar-Ilan University in Israel has joined as a Partner Institution, enhancing the depth of intellectual and material resources available to the Center.  Importantly, Bar-Ilan will also offer a residential program, to be designed by both Institutions and falling within the objectives of this Mission Statement, which will be able to accommodate students from both the Master’s Degree and Undergraduate programs.

Professor Elliot Wolfson serves as a permanent Liaison to The Tikvah Center from the Skirball Department for Hebrew and Judaic Studies at NYU (Skirball), with whom the Center consults on a regular basis. Additionally, a Liaison Group comprised of Professors Weiler, Halbertal, Schiffman, Chazan and Wolfson meets once or twice a year, to discuss broad policy issues with a view to gaining the fullest possible advantages of Skirball resources.

Other partnerships may eventually be sought.

IV. Publication and Communications

The Center’s Web site will provide the platform for disseminating through the medium of a Working Paper Series the results of its scholarly and policy programs. As the Center establishes its credentials, a publishing agreement will be sought with a major university or trade press for a series in Law & Jewish civilization.