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THE CENTER FOR HALACHA & AMERICAN LAW:

OVERVIEW of ACTIVITIES and PLANS for the FUTURE

Background and Goals

The Center for Halacha and American Law ("The Center"), a part of the Miami-based Aleph Institute, was established in mid-1998. The Aleph Institute is a tax-exempt, 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organization that was originally founded in 1981 primarily to provide Jewish inmates and their families with educational, humanitarian and religious advocacy and social support. Since that time, the Aleph Institute has significantly expanded its scope of activities through a variety of endeavors and projects such as the creation of The Center.

The Center’s goals and objectives are:

    • to enhance the Jewish community’s appreciation of the requirements of Halacha to conduct all business and personal transactions in accordance with Torah principles, ethics and values, including the obligation under the Halacha to abide by the law of the civil authority;
    • to educate the Jewish community about the seriousness of secular law and financial ethics, and the need for Jews to be examples of proper business and financial behavior;
    • to forge a better understanding within the Jewish community of the interaction between Halacha, civil authority and secular law (including both civil and criminal law);
    • to increase the Jewish community’s understanding of American statutory and regulatory law, particularly in areas of application to the community; and
    • to assist Jewish businessmen and professionals in ways that will encourage and enable them to abide by the dictates of Halacha and comply with the law of the civil authority.

The Center is seeking funding to hire a full-time Director and significantly expand its activities consistent with the above aims. This document first recaps The Center’s achievements to date and then sets out the additional projects and programs that The Center aspires to implement if appropriate funds become available.

Completed Projects and Works in Progress

Publications and Tapes

Over the past two years, The Center has produced two publications — in mid-1998, a 190-page "Journal of Halacha and American Law" and earlier this year, a 120-page compendium of "Articles on Torah Ethics and Values from the Pages of The Jewish Observer." The Journal contained, among others, articles on the impact of Halacha upon such secular law-related topics and issues as copyright, bankruptcy, and bribery, as well as one on dina d’malchusa dina generally. The Torah Ethics compendium included articles from current and past generation g’dolim such as Rav Avrohom Pam, shlita, and Rav Ruderman zt"l, and Rav Schwab, zt"l, as well as other well-known Rabbonim and lay leaders including Rabbis Wolpin, Wein, Scherman and Reisman and Professor Aaron Twersky. The compendium was so-well received that, through The Center’s efforts, Artscroll Publications has agreed to publish an expanded version (scheduled to appear in 2000). [Ed. note: In June 2000, Artscroll published the expanded version of the compendium, under the title "The Ethical Imperative."] In addition, The Center secured the permission of Agudath Israel of America to reprint several of the Jewish Observer articles independently of the Artscroll book project. Thus, articles by Rav Pam, shlita, and Rav Schwab zt"l have been reprinted in In Business magazine (readership [app.] 60,000), and The Center itself has reprinted and disseminated Rav Schwab’s article in connected with special classes on business and ethics at Maimonides High School in Boston.

Also this past year, The Center reproduced hour-long audio tapes by the renowned lecturer and author, Rabbi Paysach Krohn ("Honesty and Integrity"), and the well-known and popular Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yisroel Reisman ("How to Succeed in the Workplace"). As one of the sponsors of a conference on Halacha and business ethics conducted in New York City by Agudath Israel of America, in April 1999, The Center distributed to conference participants approximately 500 copies of the two-cassette tape package and 400 copies of the compendium of Jewish Observer articles. Since the conference, The Center has continued to distribute these materials, including most recently 200 copies of Rabbi Krohn’s tapes to 7th and 8th graders in Maimonides Elementary School as part of presentations to those students on the importance of honesty in the conduct of business and professional activities.

Sponsorship of "Jewish Law" Web Site

In addition to its print publications, the Center also is a sponsor, together with the Orthodox Union, of the "Jewish Law" Internet site (located at http://www.jlaw.com). The site is visited by eight to ten thousand separate viewers each month and includes, among other things:

-- summaries of and citations to: (i) federal and state court decisions; (ii) statutes; and (iii) law review articles -- all dealing with "Jewish" issues such as beis din, kashrus, Shabbos observance, heter iskah, etc.;

-- some original but mostly previously published Halachic/legal articles from leading Torah publications, such as the RJJ’s "Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society," "Jewish Action," "Tradition" and Coalition (all reprinted with permission);

-- Halachic forms (e.g., living will forms prepared by Agudath Israel; prenuptial agreement form drafted by Rabbi Mordechai Willig; heter iskah forms from Rabbi Yisroel Reisman’s sefer on ribbis);

-- business ethics materials including: audio tapes by Rabbi Paysach Krohn ("Honesty and Integrity") and Rabbi Nachum Sauer ("Keeping One's Word in Business - Mechusrei Emunah"), a model course outline in Jewish business ethics (by Rabbi Aaron Tendler of Baltimore), and a series of questions and answers dealing with criminal issues and pitfalls in business (by Isaac Jaroslawicz, Esq., Executive Director of the Aleph Institute);

-- briefs filed in court by organizations (e.g., OU, Agudath Israel, COLPA, International Assoc. of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists) and/or prominent attorneys (such as Nathan Lewin);

-- public policy statements and/or testimony before Congress and State legislative bodies.

Shiurim and Other Sponsorships

The Center also has sponsored Torah lectures, including a presentation by Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a Rosh Kollel and Rebbe in the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York City, on dina d’malchusa dina. In 1999, the Center sponsored an electronic mail shiur disseminated by Project Genesis (http://www.torah.org). In January 2000, The Center comissioned Rabbi Yissocher Frand of Ner Israel Rabbinical College, a world-recognized Torah lecturer, to deliver a major address entitled "Every Jew’s Job" on the topic of Chillul HaShem/Kiddush HaShem in Miami. The Center video-taped Rabbi frand's address and hopes to make it available for national distribution.

Development of High School "Case Study" Curriculum on Torah Ethics

The Center is developing a high school curriculum that introduces high school students to the Halachic and American legal systems using a "case study" methodology. The curriculum is being drafted by prominent educators in chinuch and law -- Rabbi Sholom Kamenetsky of Philadelphia and Professor Steve Resnicoff of Depaul University School of Law in Chicago. Rabbi Kamenetsky, a musmach of the esteemed Beth Medrash Govoha, Lakewood, New Jersey, and a Rebbe in the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia, has lectured on legal topics and Halacha over the past five years in the context of Continuing Legal Education ("CLE") courses that he has presented to members of various state bars. Professor Resnicoff is a musmach of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt"l and a graduate of Beth Medrash Govoha, Princeton University and Yale Law School, and a prolific writer in the area of Talmudic jurisprudence and secular law. Yitzchak Kasdan, an experienced attorney and the founder and Editor of the "Jewish Law" web site who has been directing The Center’s activities over the last year, is also assisting in the drafting and coordination of the curriculum project.

In 1999, the course was taught to high school seniors in pilot programs in the Yeshiva of Los Angeles, California by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein and in the Sol Sved Boys High School Division of the Torah Academy of Philadelphia by Rabbi Kamenetsky. Once the present draft of the curriculum is completed, the Center hopes to publish a textbook and teacher’s guidebook and work with organizations such as Torah U’Mesorah, as well as individual yeshivas, to train rabbeim, teachers and qualified lawyers to implement the course in schools across the United States

In the course, students are presented with "real life" business-related situations and scenarios together with Halachic and secular law materials (such as statutes, court opinions, excerpts from treatises) that are studied in connection with legal, Halachic and ethical questions raised in connection with the facts of each case. The students in the pilot programs have reviewed cases dealing with such diverse topics as: misrepresentations in connection with the sale of a house, money laundering schemes, failure to pay workers on time, failure to keep business and personal promises, litigation in secular court and the prohibition of arkaos, and copyrights under Halacha and secular law, For the future, plans are being made for the students to "adjudicate" cases in mock "Beis Din" and/or civil/criminal "court" proceedings. In this regard, it is expected that students would "represent" each side of the particular dispute in written assignments and oral presentations to the "Beis Din" and "court."

In general, consistent with the Center’s mission, the goals of the course are as follows:

    1. To familiarize students with various halachos in Choshen Mishpat, including those dealing with:
        1. Beis Din and the Beis Din process;
        2. the issur of arkaus;
        3. substantive laws (depending on the particular facts of the case) such as hasogas g'vul; taus akum; ribis; m 'sirah, g'zailah etc.
    2. To introduce students to federal and state civil and criminal rules, procedures and laws, including:
        1. specific Federal Rules of Civil and Criminal Procedure;
        2. substantive statutory and common laws, such as (depending on the particular facts of the case) federal copyright law; disclosure laws; unfair trade practices laws, etc.
    3. To inculcate students with Torah business practices and attitudes, ethics and values, including (depending on the particular facts of the case):
        1. concepts of hishtadlus and bitachon; kiddush Hashem and chilul Hashem;
        2. obligations of employers to employees and vice versa;
        3. communal obligations towards Jews and non-Jewish neighbors;
        4. tz'dakah and obligations to help provide Jews with parnasah,
        5. concepts of lifnim mishuras hadin.
    4. To teach analytical skills in reviewing and understanding both Halachic materials and their intersection with secular statutes and case law; and
    5. To provide a means for students to develop Halachic and legal argument skills through written and oral presentations to "dayanim" and "judges."

Thus far, the pilot programs have been met with much enthusiasm, not only from the teachers and principals involved but more importantly the student participants. In connection with its efforts to have the course introduced in other Yeshivas, The Center has obtained, and continues to obtain, written support for this innovative program from g’dolim and respected educators. [These letters of support are available upon request by sending an e-mail via the feedback page.] Finally, in December 1999, the course was the subject of a positive article in the Philadelphia-based Jewish Exponent.

An article that describes in more detail the need for the Torah Ethics course may be found at http://www.jlaw.com/Commentary/TorahEthics.html.

Ideas and Projects for the Future

The Center has ambitious, and in some instances, novel ideas for future projects and programs. However, two pre-conditions must be met before any of these ideas can begin to come to fruition: first, they must be sanctioned by outstanding, well-known and accepted g’dolim and poskim; second, they must be fully funded and staffed appropriately by competent individuals. Based on preliminary discussions with one of today’s g’dolim, for purposes of this document the assumption is that the first test can and will be met.

Adult Educational Programs

Education for businessmen and professionals

Agudath Israel of America has, over the years, successfully conducted several national and regional conferences relating to Halachic workplace issues as well as Torah business ethics. However, these have been one day events without an appreciable or sustained follow up. The Center would strive to expand upon Agudah’s concept by running seminars and mini-courses to be held locally in community shuls throughout the United States on relevant business/Halachic-related topics. These seminars and mini-courses would be based upon course materials, including handouts and publications, that The Center would create to allow for intensive and in-depth study over an extended period of time (weekly or bi-weekly). In addition, The Center would prepare similar materials and programs for weekly or monthly presentations and/or (lunchtime) "study groups"at places of business. Obviously, the materials would be prepared to match the learning levels and capacities of the (targeted) participants.

School Educational Programs

Programs for High Schools (in addition to the aforementioned course)

1. Y’mai Iyun Programs

The Center desires to establish single-day programs, i.e., y’mai iyun, focusing on honesty in the workplace and other business- related, honesty topics. With appropriate funding, The Center’s successful sessions at Maimonides in Boston could be expanded and repeated at other schools throughout the United States. Presentations and presenters would, of course, be geared to the type of schools and student populations involved.

2. Inter- and intra-school competitions

With the assistance of The Center, national organizations such as Torah U’mesorah could organize inter- and intra- school competitions to review, analyze and present the opposing sides (the "machlokes") of Halachic positions on various Choshen mishpat topics relating to daily business life. Depending upon the level and ability of the students involved, they either would research on their own, or be given in advance, the sources (mareh m’komos) for the issues. They then could be given the opportunity to write up the opposing positions, and be judged on their written and oral presentations in a Halachic "debate" in the presence of roshei hayeshiva or magidei shiur. Similar programs could be organized for Yeshiva camps too.

Elementary School Programs

The Center would develop suitable materials for elementary school students, too. The media for such materials would not be limited to print workbooks and the like, but would also include CD-ROM’s and similar "interactive" programs. Contests and essay competitions for prizes could also be established in order to spur interest in (and the proclivity towards) Torah ethics and honesty.

Work with Poskim

Although somewhat audacious at first blush, the idea for The Center to work with poskim to enable them to better understand applicable laws that fall under dina de'malchusa dina is not as bold as appears. From time to time, Poskim have consulted with doctors and other specialists in order to ascertain the Halacha. In the same manner, frum legal "experts" affiliated with The Center could be made available to Rabbonim for consultation to help resolve questions and/or disputes. The organization could provide lists of "experts" who might be willing to provide information or undertake to try to find an expert when the need for one arises.

In addition, The Center could formulate specific questions for submission to poskim. In this regard, problems often arise in determining whether particular actions are permissible or prohibited because responsa are ambiguously written. At other times, the specific questions asked in responsa only go to a certain point, and the poskim, who are not in the "business" of writing law review articles, do not go any further. The goals in submitting properly drafted questions would be to gain as much clarity on various issues as well as to delineate consensus and differences between poskim. (The Center would attempt to foster communications between the poskim to identify and then narrow -- to the extent possible -- differences.) The answers and the follow-up "give and take" would be published for public consumption. In similar fashion, poskim could identify for The Center issues within Halacha that often are the subject of dinai Torah, and, together with The Center’s assistance, publish booklets and other materials to guide the public in these areas.

Torah Ethics/Legal Hotline

Both employees and employers, either separately or jointly, occasionally are confronted with difficult, ethical challenges in the workplace. Situations may arise that require guidance not only from a Halachic but also a legal standpoint. To help those in need of direction when confronted with such problems, The Center could offer assistance through a hotline manned by competent lawyers and Rabbonim. One can envision that an effective hotline service could, in certain cases, help those availing themselves of the service avoid pitfalls that potentially otherwise lead to instances of Chilul Hashem, if not outright illegal activities.

Mediation and/or Arbitration Services

To help businessmen avoid the prohibition of arkaos and simultaneously resolve disputes in an efficient, economical manner, The Center could offer mediation and arbitration services. For an in depth discussion regarding how such services could be offered in an Halachically acceptable manner, see A Proposal for P’shara located at http://www.jlaw.com/articles/psharah1.html. In addition, The Center could advise Batei Din in the (procedural) conduct of their cases to ensure that their decisions are upheld and enforceable in secular court just as recognized arbitration proceedings are.

A Jewish "Better Business Bureau"

Another arena in which The Center can play a role is consumer affairs. Subject to, and within prior-approved Halachic and secular law parameters, The Center can establish a division akin to a "Better Business Bureau." Jewish merchants would apply for membership and agree to abide by certain rules and regulations for resolving consumer complaints under this division’s auspices. At the same time, this Jewish BBB might provide ongoing consumer alerts about problems as they are discovered and also serve as a vehicle for focusing public attention on particular abuses or abusers.

Conclusion

The Center is seeking support from various sources, especially the Jewish business world, in order to carry on its current activities, as well as develop its proposed new projects. In this regard, The Center is seeking to raise enough funds to hire a full-time professional who would oversee and implement the important work that the Center has only begun to the benefit of all klal Yisroel.

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