The ideas and ideals of justice and law – Tzedek u Mishpat – have been central to and a part of Jewish civilization from its inception. Abraham standing before his Creator and asking in astonishment and protest “Will the Justice of all the earth, Himself not do justice?” – the Decalogue – the giving of Torah/Nomos  – the soaring messages of Isaiah, Amos and the other prophets – the development of Halakha as a detailed program for life, informed by those earlier sources and its evolution over the centuries, are all landmarks – signposts in the very formation and understanding of the meaning of law and justice in Western civilization.

To understand these notions of law and justice in the deepest possible way is to gain formidable insight into the meaning of Jewish civilization. To understand this central feature of Jewish civilization is to gain formidable insight into the meaning of law and justice.

This is the central premise which informs the newly established Masters in Law & Jewish Civilization which will be offered by NYU School of Law beginning in Academic year 2010/2011.

NYU School of Law now offers two master’s degrees:

1.  The traditional and well established LL.M. (Master of Laws), a degree offering law graduates professional specialization and legal expertise in various areas ranging from trade regulation to taxation.

2.  The newly established M.S.L. (Master of Studies in Law), which is not aimed at professional development but at a deep intellectual and academic enquiry. The M.S.L. is a new type of masters approved by the State of New York at the request of NYU School of Law. Uniquely, it offers two tracks: It is open to law graduates and practicing lawyers who want a deeper understanding of the discipline they have studied and practice. It is, however, in its second track open to college graduates who have not taken a law degree who wish to gain an understanding on the nature of law and its relationship to society and the human condition.

The Masters in Law and Jewish Civilization is the first program offered within the M.S.L. framework. We anticipate that other programs will follow.

Prospective Students

The degree is aimed at four principal prospective groups:

1. Recent law graduates who may wish, after the rigors of the JD and before embarking on life-long professional careers, to step back and both deepen their conceptual understanding of their profession whilst, at the same time, acquainting and reacquainting themselves with the riches which Jewish civilization has to offer to both the understanding and practice of law.

2. Recent college graduates considering a masters degree in Judaic studies, for whom the M.S.L. may be of particular interest, since its focus will be on such a key element in the understanding of Judaism and since the studies will take place with the rigor and intellectual commitment  associated with a leading law school in the United States. For those considering a life in the law or undecided about their future trajectory, the Masters may be an intermediate step before committing to a professional degree – acquainting themselves with the study of law at the highest level, combining it with a deepening of their Jewish learning and, at the same time, obtaining an advanced degree from one of the most prestigious law schools in the US which will constitute an important credential for future pursuits, whether in a doctoral program, a professional JD degree or other pursuits.

3. Lawyers already in practice, maybe even for many years, who wish to ‘go back to school’ and deepen their Jewish learning in a way which relates it to their life-long vocation. The program will weave Jewish learning and legal insight in a manner which simply does not exist elsewhere – neither in the world of Yeshivot (Jewish seminaries) nor in departments of Judaic studies. With a view to this group of prospective students, there will be a selection of advanced legal and Judaic courses to choose from.

4. Former non-law graduates already established in the professions and other walks of life with an interest in deepening the knowledge, understanding and learning of Judaism in a particularly demanding and unique program leading to an advanced degree.

Duration and Size of the Program

The program requires successful completion of 30 credits, including a masters thesis, and may be taken in one academic year. For the convenience of some of its target populations, it may also be taken on a part time basis, one or more course at time, building up the 30 credits.

Admission to the program will be very selective, commensurate with the regular standards of NYU School of Law; it will be small in size to enable individual attention to each student in both the selection of courses and the supervision of the masters thesis.

Academic Content

The degree program will be composed of the following elements:

  • Foundational Courses in Law and Judaism. These will be selected from a broad menu of courses offered as part of the normal curriculum at both NYU School of Law and the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University’s Graduate School of Arts and Science. The specific choices will be determined by the student and his/her advisor on the basis of their background and experience in both disciplines.
  • Three obligatory Core Courses.  All M.S.L. students will be required to take three Core courses in Law & Jewish Civilization that will illustrate potential connections between the two disciplines.  The first Core course, entitled “Law in Jewish Civilization, Law and Jewish Civilization, Jewish Law and Legal Civilization,” will develop a sensibility to legal theory and philosophical investigations of Jewish Law. The Second Core course, entitled “’The Responsum’—An Anatomy of the Legal Decision in Jewish law,” will focus on legal process and legal realism in exploring Jewish Responsa.  The third Core course will introduce students to the sensibility of historical investigation.  For this course students will choose one of the following three options currently being offered in the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies:
      • Readings in the Babylonian Talmud
      • History of Judaism in Late Antiquity
      • Modern Jewish Thought
    • Specialized Courses.  These may be selected from a menu of courses designed specifically for the Masters in Law & Jewish Civilization. In 2010 these will include:
      1. Religion, Law, and Morality
      2. Messianic Torah: Hypernomianism and the Transvaluation of the Law
      3. The Halakhic System and Responsa Literature: Interpretation, History &Values
      4. The Image of God in Jewish Law and Philosophy
      5. Jewish Law and American Legal Theory
      6. The “Marginals” in Jewish Law: The Ill, the Insane, the Criminal and Others
      7. From Imperial Law to Law’s Empire: Transformative Phases in Early Jewish Jurisprudence
      8. Justice and Injustice in Biblical Narrative
  • Master Thesis. The thesis should be on a topic which combines law and Jewish civilization and corresponds to the interest and experience of the student.


Foundational courses will be taught by the regular faculty at NYU School of Law and the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University’s Graduate School of Arts and Science.

Specialized courses will be designed and taught by the Affiliates and Fellows of the Tikvah Center. Affiliates include Elliot Wolfson, David Flatto, and Suzanne Last Stone. Fellows are drawn from the most distinguished amongst established scholars, and the most promising among emerging scholars. They spend one year at The Tikvah Center for the purposes of research and may teach some courses. The Fellows for academic year 2009/2010 include:The Fellows in academic year 2010/2011, some of whom will teach in the program include:

Scholarships and Tuition

A limited number of full and partial scholarships to cover or partially cover the cost of tuition will be offered on a merit basis for those applying to take the degree on a full-time basis. It is not expected that scholarships will be offered to ‘go back to school’ applicants who are already established in their professional life.