Through a generous donation from The Tikvah Fund, New York University School of Law founded The Tikvah Center for Law & Jewish Civilization. The Center, situated at 22 Washington Square, formally opened 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 of 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 among 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.