Secular Vs Jewish Law Discussed at Virtual Kinus Torah

A virtual Kinus Torah was held on Isru Chag by Online Smicha, featuring a discussion on Jewish vs. secular law and presented by 3 of the talmidim in the program.

Following the Yom Tov of Shavuot, the Online Smicha program held its traditional Kinus Torah for its talmidim from all around the world. Close to 100 talmidim have joined, from Israel and South Africa, France and the US.

The Kinus Torah focused on the topic of Jewish Law Vs. Secular Law, and was presented by 3 of the talmidim on the program:

Yakov Gladstone, a Rhode Island lawyer who focuses his practice upon debtor-creditor law, compared and contrasted debtor-creditor laws of Torah with l’havdil debtor-creditor laws, particularly American bankruptcy laws.  Under Torah law, Reb Gladstone pointed out, there is the seven-year shemitah law that frees debtors in many cases; in American law, bankruptcy law is a part of the United States Constitution, with Congress prescribing the laws.

Whereas American law features Chapter 7 discharges of individuals and Chapter 13 payment plans that enable debtors to pay portions of their debts to creditors, there is the shemitah and Rabbi Hillel’s construction of the pruzbol, that enables debts to carry through the shemitah as obligation to the Beit Din.

Relationships between debtors and creditors we find described in Vayikra (Leviticus), in the very center of Torah, particularly in Chapters 25 to the end, to emphasize the centrality of this relationship to the fulfillment of Torah-Mitzvot—just as, l’havdil, the American Liberty Bell has Leviticus 25:10 inscribed upon it – “Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land, and to All the Inhabitants Thereof”.

Dovid Katz, an Atlanta lawyer who focuses upon privacy, data security, and creation of data management contracts between firms, has a background as a prosecutor in the City of Baltimore.  He compared the “black-and-white” paramount importance of justice pursued righteously in Torah with critical points of the rules of professional conduct that govern lawyers in Georgia, his home state, and all lawyers across the United States.  He pointed out that, l’havdil, the rules of professional conduct governing American lawyers have a firm basis in Torah, which prescribe the criteria for appointment of judges, the conduct of people before the Beit Din, and the obligations of witnesses at all times.

Rules of professional conduct govern candor to the court by lawyers as to fact and law, the responsibilities of lawyers to correct any lapses of candor to the court that witnesses, clients, or lawyers themselves create, and the obligation to seek help from other lawyers, without violating confidences of clients, to correct these lapses.  He pointed out the obligation to keep client confidences has its foundation in Torah teachings of scholars who proclaimed and gossip and lashon hara as great aveirot, and silence as a great virtue.

Barry Schreiber of California taught the contrasts between the Sanhedrin, the Israeli Supreme Court, and the United States Supreme Court.  The Sanhedrin rested upon Torah; in contrast, there is no written constitution that governs Israel, with the Knesset making basic laws, the Israeli Supreme Court interpreting the basic laws, and reviewing individuals’ public functions and acts of the Knesset.  While the Israeli Supreme Court cites precedent from Ottoman, British, Australian, and even American law, the Court does not rest upon Torah precedent.  

The Sanhedrin had 71 members with required knowledge of Torah, law, medicine and mathematics, with three chambers of 23 – the same number as American grand juries.  The Sanhedrin had age limits from 18 to 70; the Israeli Supreme Court has fifteen members with the age limit of 70.  The Sanhedrin last convened in 70 C.E., with the destruction of the Second Temple; the Israeli Supreme Court, created in 1948 C.E., meets one-half mile from the Knesset in Jerusalem.  The Sanhedrin was not an appellate court, yet met on capital cases, cases that the king required, and cases concerning borders and wars.  L’havdil, both the Israeli Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court are appellate courts, with few exceptions for original jurisdiction in the U.S. Supreme Court; contrasting with the Sanhedrin and the Israeli Supreme Court, the United States Supreme Court has only nine justices and no age limit.  

In contrast to the Israeli Supreme Court, the United States Supreme has a paramount duty to interpret the written United States Constitution of the United States.  In contrast to the Sanhedrin, l’havdil, the United States Supreme Court acts only in the face of actual cases or controversies, in which one claims an injury to a right under the law or a tangible harm to their person or property. 

For more information about upcoming courses please visit the Online Smicha Program’s website at or contact [email protected]


YouTube player

In keeping in line with the Rabbonim's policies for websites, we do not allow comments. However, our Rabbonim have approved of including input on articles of substance (Torah, history, memories etc.)

We appreciate your feedback. If you have any additional information to contribute to this article, it will be added below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

advertise package