Talmud for lawyers

On his blog, the revisionist review, Michael Hoffman protests a Missouri program in which lawyers receive continuing legal education credit for studying the Talmud.  In his view, anything related to the Talmud (and probably Jews) is evil and should not be tolerated.  Hoffman writes:

In the “seminar accredited for Continuing Legal Education (CLE) by the Missouri Bar” reported in the press release below, St. Louis, Missouri lawyers who attend will be schooled by Chabad rabbis in the Babylonian Talmuda handbook on lying, deceit and wrong-doing whichdesecrates the name and memory of Jesus Christ (Sanhedrin 43a; Gittin 57a), and His Blessed Mother Mary (Sanhedrin 106a; Kallah 51a), permits sex with children (Sanhedrin 69b in The Talmud: The Steinsaltz Edition [Random House, 1999] vol. 19, p. 13; also cf. Ketubot 11b and Sanhedrin 54b) and teaches that Judaic males are above God (Bava Metzia 59b).

I will not deny that the above passages can be found in the Talmud; I have already written about them here.  In a nutshell, the Talmud does not represent a monolithic set of beliefs.  It is a mixed bag, collected over hundreds of years and representing many (often contradictory) opinions.  Most of the passages cited above are of the genre called “Agadah“; they are not articles of faith but rather folklore, personal opinions and tall tales.  As for the “sex with children” part, which ancient texts can be held to modern, 21st century criteria and withstand the scrutiny unscathed?  Sure, the sexual morality of ancient Jews differed from that of modern Americans – but so did that of the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians – and just about everybody else.

I do agree with Hoffman that there should be a separation of Synagogue and State just as there is (in theory) a separation of Church and State.  On that basis I would eliminate the above program.  I would add, however, that Talmud study does sharpen the mind and is likely to broaden one’s insight into tricky questions such as those listed in the above article.  The type of debate used in the Talmud forces the student into difficult mental exercises and challenges the limits of logical deduction, memory and linguistic skills.  It was quite a struggle for me, at least for the first couple of years.

Hoffman writes, regarding the Chabad sect:

Chabad (also known as “Chabad-Lubavitch”) is a Hasidic faction of Orthodox Judaism that derives its halacha (law) from the pagan-occult Zohar (Kabbalah), and the Babylonian Talmud, along with the sacred texts of the founder of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Lyady. One of Rabbi Zalman’s texts, Tanya, teaches that the souls of gentiles “contain no good whatever” (Opening the Tanya, p. 43).

He is 100% on the mark here.  I was involved with Chabad for a few years in my youth and I can vouch for the accuracy of this statement.  It should be noted, however, that Chabad does not promote any form of proselytizing among non-Jews; their efforts are directed specifically at Jews and they have done a lot of good in bringing estranged Jews back to their roots (or, at least, some semblance of their roots).

A lot of people in the anti-Semitic crowd are similar to those on the Left; they see things in absolutes.  There is either black or white and nothing in-between.  Anti-Semites can see no good in Jews and the Left can see no good in white advocacy or race-realism.  Reality is far more complex than that.  It is full of various shades of gray.  Those who try to force their own ideologies upon reality are bound to reach bizarre conclusions and open themselves up to ridicule.

About jewamongyou

I am a paleolibertarian Jew who is also a race-realist. My opinions are often out of the mainstream and often considered "odd" but are they incorrect? Feel free to set me right if you believe so!
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10 Responses to Talmud for lawyers

  1. countenance says:

    I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve known a few lawyers that have to suffer St. Louis’s CLE by the Missouri Bar. Believe me, they’d love for it to be more interesting. Ironically, a lot of St. Louis lawyers think that Canon Law is the fundamental basis of American statutory law, mainly because one of the two big law schools here, St. Louis University, is Jesuit.

  2. seedofjapheth says:

    Jewish people have a reputation for being good lawyers and that might have something to do with the Talmud promoting a culture of debate among jews due to the Talmud containing various debates in it. And so I am not opposed to lawyers studying talmud if the program to study it is made known and available to “gentiles”(I don’t believe gentiles exist because I do not practice judaism that’s why I put the word in quotations).

  3. fred says:

    Often when lawyers or judges make arguments or rulings they will base it on the constitution, federal law or even previous rulings. Over the last few years there have been a number of judges who have cited international or foreign laws as their “precedent”. The problem with that is the US is a sovereign country. We make our own laws. And I don’t think American citizens should be subject to laws passed in other countries. It is a threat to our freedom and sovereignty.

    In particular, there have been a number of states who have moved to to ban Sharia law as the basis for court rulings. Otherwise, one ends up with the kind of situation they have in the UK where “sharia courts” are officially recognized. How would you like to go to court and have the judge rule against you and cite “sharia law” as the basis for their decision?

    Now, I really don’t think the Bar Association’s program offering continuing education credit for Talmudic study comes anywhere close to something like that. And I think Talmudic study probably “does sharpen the mind and is likely to broaden one’s insight into tricky questions.” But I also think anyone who studies the Talmud intensively will have their thinking influenced by it. If an individual or group wants to do that then that’s their business. As an independent and voluntary association the Bar can certainly do that. But I disagree with their decision because the Bar should be promoting the law of the land and not a competing legal tradition. It also sets a bad precedent that will, sooner or later, be used as a toe-hold by moslem radicals who have already declared it their goal to impose sharia law on others.

    • jewamongyou says:

      I agree that, as stated, there should be a separation between Synagogue and State, Church and State etc. and that legal decisions should not be based upon religious text or foreign law. But your point about a judge’s decisions being influenced by Talmud study could easily be extended to ban them from watching T.V., movies, reading books etc. All of these can influence their decisions as well.

    • countenance says:

      But I also think anyone who studies the Talmud intensively will have their thinking influenced by it.

      A good lawyer or even an average lawyer ought to have a strong enough personal constitution no to be so easily influenced or swayed.

  4. sestamibi says:

    One has to wonder about someone named Hoffman. Perhaps something in his background went awry?

    I have no objection to credit for Talmud study just as I have no objection to credit for sharia study, as long as it is clearly understood that the purpose of doing so is for comparison only, and that other legal systems may never replace the one we have.

    I also have no objection to private dispute resolution under sharia or any other legal system agreed to by the parties involved–as long as decisions rendered under such systems are not the final word (unless the parties agree to that too) and are reviewable by civil courts and authorities.

    • seedofjapheth says:

      In Britain there was controversy over having Sharia courts being established for civil disputes but the archbishop of Canterbury said that having SHaria courts wasn’t a big deal because they already had Rabbinic courts to settle civil disputes. The article is here.

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7233040.stm

      I was looking up online to see if we had hindu courts in America but we don’t but I did find an article about hindus in America traveling to India to get divorce settlements according to hindu law:

      http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2009/06/392013.shtml

      I am not comfortable with having separate laws of code in America for different religious communities even if those legal institutions are ultimately subject to American legal institutions. And so I would not like to see separate legal institutions in America for hindus, muslims, or jews.

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