Mishpat Ivri: Past, Present and Future.

100 Year Anniversary of the Establishment of the “Mishpat Ivri Society” in Moscow

From July 23‒26, Rabbi Dr. David J. Fine represented Abraham Geiger College at the Jewish Law Association’s 20th International Conference which took place at the Moscow State University Law School.

Dr. Fine is adjunct professor of Jewish Law at Abraham Geiger College and delivered a paper on “The Value of Life as Political Polemic in Ancient Jewish Law”.

“The conference was organized by the law school at the University of Tel Aviv, in conjunction with the law faculty at Moscow State,” Rabbi Fine explained. “The conference was about mishpat Ivri — halacha, Israeli law, and values and concepts that flow from one to the other. It’s the study of Jewish law through an academic lens as the cultural and legal heritage for Israeli law.”

Rabbi Dr. Fine summarizes his paper as follows:

“The universal value of human life is considered axiomatic in Jewish criminal law. The evidentiary standards, the procedures of deliberation, and the execution regulations are such that capital punishment could hardly ever be enforced. The discussion in Mishnah Makkot 1:10 on whether a rabbinic court ever administered capital punishment makes clear the Rabbinic discomfort with the punishment, even though it is regularly mandated by the Torah, the primary source of Jewish law. Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 provides the instructions of the judge to witnesses in a criminal case, including a powerful sermon on the value of each and every life. This codified perspective and the almost impractical procedures for conviction are often cited as evidence of the Rabbinic view that the universal value of Jewish life supersedes the Torah’s prescription of capital punishment for legal transgressions. However, a clear case can be made based on external and internal evidence that the rabbinic courts of late antiquity functioned primarily as arbitration courts dealing with civil disputes and family law. The body of rabbinic criminal law, unlike civil law, represents a theoretical rather than practical tradition that functions essentially as a polemic against Roman criminal justice rather than as a guide to Jewish autonomous criminal jurisprudence. Jewish law had the liberty to take an “enlightened” view against capital punishment because it was not a sovereign system. Ironically, the only specific Rabbinic capital case recorded is the trial of Jesus, and that only by Christian sources. Later Talmudic accounts of the trial of Jesus indicate the polemics of that particular memory and the general polemical approach of Jewish law to capital punishment. The opportunity for polemic in the legal code signifies a fundamental difference between governing and voluntary legal systems.”

See below the link to Dr. Fine’s the conference video, courtesy of Rabbi Zvi Knoll and the Hokumishpat channel:

The idea of Jewish law as a foundation for a secular system of law was first imagined 100 years ago by secular Zionists in Moscow. So the idea of the conference — its theme — was to go back to Moscow to celebrate 100 years of mishpat Ivri.

Conference supported by:

The Buchmann Faculty of Law, TAU | Euro-Asian Jewish Congress | The Jewish Law Association | The Zimin Foundation, TAU | The Friends Association of TAU | Eliyahu Foundation Program for Instruction and Research In Mishpat Ivri, supported by the Koschitzky Family | Embassy of the State of Israel in Moscow | The Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University School of Law | David Berg Foundation Institute for Law and History, The Buchmann Faculty of Law, TAU | Taubenschlag Institute of Criminal Law, The Buchmann Faculty of Law, TAU

(Photo © Jo Rosen)