A Comprehensive Introduction to Jewish and Israeli Law

An academic cooperation between Potsdam and Jerusalem closes a gap

“It is absolutely remarkable that a German-Israeli joint-venture is behind the best overview in this field you can find on the market today,” said Elmar Esser at the German Bundestag on June12  during the book launch of “Jewish and Israeli Law: An Introduction”. The First Chair of the German-Israeli Lawyers Association explained: “This book closes a gap in publications about the Jewish and the Israeli legal system.” Esser assured the two authors, Shimon Shetreet and Walter Homolka, that the time it took to work on this book was well invested. Addressing the audience hosted by MP Volker Beck, Head of the German-Israeli Parliamentarians Group, he highlighted two aspects of the 600 page thick compendium:

“First of all it gives a very good overview of the two main pillars the Israeli Legal System today is based on. One of them is the history of Jewish law and its role in the Israeli legal system today. For German attorneys who are used to a legal framework that in general regulates all matters of family affairs like divorce etc. it may sound surprising that in Israel as a Jewish state all these questions are handled by the different religious communities on the basis of their own religious legal framework and jurisdiction.” The second pillar, Elmar Esser emphasized, is the comprehensive description of the Israeli legal culture and the system of government in the State of Israel.

The book, which is the only English language monograph in this field, was initiated in September 2009 during the 32nd National Convention of the German Society for Comparative Law in Cologne. After Rabbi Walter Homolka, rector of the Abraham Geiger College at the University of Potsdam, had given a lecture on Jewish law and its interrelations with national laws, great interest was raised among the assembled experts to learn more about the origins and development of law in the State of Israel, about the whole variety of influences on Israeli law, and about its current state of affairs.

Together with Rabbi Homolka, who holds the Chair for Modern Jewish Thought at the Potsdam School of Jewish Theology, Professor Shimon Shetreet of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem took on this exciting project during his time as a visiting professor at the University of Potsdam. In Jerusalem, he holds the Greenblatt Chair of Public and International Law and is the head of the Sacher Institute of Legislative Research and Comparative Law. One main field he has been working on constantly for over many years is judicial independence. With his background as a former cabinet minister of the State of Israel and an international expert in comparative law, the right person had been identified to extend the project into a thorough roadmap and an exciting guidebook. “I assumed the joint task of writing the book as I realized that  it  was long overdue,” Shetreet explained at the Bundestag. For Elmar Esser it is certainly one of the authors’ main merits that they describe this special situation very accurately from different perspectives

The book, which in May had already presented at the office of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Jerusalem, addresses many current issues, for example the promotion of equality for women, minorities, and Jews from different countries, or the question to what extent Israeli judges stand for the judicial review of legislative actions. For many years there has been a discussion in Israel about the role of the Israeli Supreme Court and there have been several political initiatives aiming to limit its competences. Since countries like Poland, Hungary or Turkey face the same situation as Israel, the book sheds light on the role a strong and independent Supreme Court can have in a stable democracy when it comes to defend constitutional rights.

“I am pleased that  we succeeded in publishing a volume on Jewish and Israeli law  which  provides  a convenient,  comprehensive monograph  for scholars as well as informed readers,”  Shimon Shetreet sums it up. “In addition to contemporary issues we made sure that   the monograph offers historical background on the issues discussed  to insure deeper  understanding of the wider perspectives of the topics .”

Shimon Shetreet / Walter Homolka: Jewish and Israeli Law – An Introduction. De Gruyter Berlin, Basel, Boston, Munich, Bejing 2017, XLVI, 575 pages, € 59.95

Find other publications of Walter Homolka here.

Pictures: © De Gruyter, Tobias Barniske

About Elisabeth Stanzl