Jewish and American Law

In order to undertake a journey of the converging paths of Jewish and American law, it is necessary to first look at the distinguishing characteristics between the two. Halacha, the Jewish legal system, is rooted in the Torah, given by God to the Jewish nation through Moses at Sinai. Comprised of the Written Torah and Oral Torah, it has survived thousands of years. Its laws encompass every aspect of human life, from family relations to commercial transactions, and, of course, religious obligations, prohibitions, and rites. Due to its Divine origin, the Torah’s laws are unalterable. Nevertheless, as time goes on, social changes and technological advances require modern Jewish scholars to apply centuries-old principles to countless new issues.

In contrast, American law, a common law system, is best understood in light of comments made by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

“The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow-men, have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed.” The Common Law 1 (1881).

“The common law is not a brooding omnipresence in the sky but the articulate voice of some sovereign or quasi-sovereign that can be identified” Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205, 222 (1917) (Holmes, J., dissenting).

In other words, it is a constantly evolving system of man-made law, adapting its principles according to the social convictions of the times. Among the issues that the American legal system must consider and respond to are the desire of American citizens to freely practice their respective religions and the constitutional requirement to maintain a separation between religion and the government.

About this site

The goal of this site is to explore the crossroads of Halacha and American law. My focus will be on two issues:

  1. How does Halacha view American legal concepts?
  2. How are Jewish laws and customs treated in the American legal system?

This site will serve as a resource for those who wish to gain an understanding of the relationship between Jewish and American law. I will attempt to write in a way that will be easily comprehended by any reader, including those who have little background knowledge of either legal system. Please feel free to comment on, question, and critique my posts or contact me directly.

Nothing on this site is intended as legal advice. For all such matters, one should consult with a lawyer. Similarly, nothing on this site is intended as halachic advice. For all such matters, one should consult with a competent rabbinic authority.

About me – Evan (Chaim) Kusnitz, Esq.

I am an attorney admitted in New Jersey and New York, with a solo practice focusing on elder law and estate planning.

I am a graduate of Hofstra University School of Law and I received my bachelor’s degree in Talmudic Law from Ner Israel Rabbinical College. With such a background, it is no surprise that my interests lie in the overlap between Jewish and American law. I do not consider myself an expert in either, but my desire is to continue to delve into the issues that are generated by the convergence of these two legal systems.

6 responses to “About

  1. Gail

    Interesting! I look forward to following your blog!

  2. Irving Weinberg

    I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts and comments and will continue to access your blog.

  3. Very interesting. Have you been looking at the work of Professors Yale (ז”ל) and Irene Rosenberg?

    • I must admit that I have not heard of them. What have they written about? Any particular works that you recommend?

      • Yale and Irene taught at U. of Houston Law School. Yale died a few years ago. They often collaborated and published together. When they became observant, they started devoting their yearly ‘publish or perish’ efforts to themes that would enhance their learning Torah. The comparison and nexus of Halachah and American Law was a constant theme with them. Irene is a real character, and well worth knowing and learning from.

        Two examples that I have handy: Lone Star Musings on “Eye for Eye” and the Death Penalty; Utah Law Review No. 4; 1998

        Return of the Stubborn and Rebellious Son: An Independent Sequel on the Prediction of Future Criminality (written with Rabbi Bentzion Turin); Brandeis Law Journal (U. of Louisville); Vol. 37, No. 4; 1998-99

        A literature search will, of course, turn up a lot more.

  4. After my comment yesterday, I Googled Irene Merker Rosenberg. I hadn’t seen her for a few years, though I speak about her often. I found that she died last November. Baruch Dayan HaEmet. A big loss for menschlickkeit, for yiddishkeit, and for legal scholarship and leadership.

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