West Palm Beach, FL — After a quick kosher lunch of eggplant spread, bagels and hummus, the room full of lawyers and judges moved on to a dessert they clearly relished: The law.
It was the first of six sessions of a continuing education course called “You Be the Judge,” sponsored by the Jewish Learning Institute.
It immediately became clear that this was no class for amateurs. The prerequisite was a good understanding of civil law and it didn’t hurt to know a few Hebrew phrases too. The object was to sharpen the participants’ understanding of Jewish ecclesiastical law. About a dozen people, mostly lawyers, attended the first class of the series, which continues weekly through January.
The panelists were Circuit Judges Ed Fine and Kenneth Stern, Court of Appeals Judge Barry Stone, retired Judge Hal Cohen and State Attorney Barry Krischer.
With that many legal minds, a ringmaster was essential. Rabbi Mendy Kornfeld of Chabad of West Palm Beach, was more than up to the task. With only an hour to convey even the flavor of Jewish law, Kornfeld presented age-old concepts with a rapid-fire delivery.
Besides keeping the group from veering away from the law and into philosophy, Kornfeld was the resident expert on Talmudic legal reasoning and the methods used by Beit Din, the Jewish court of law that goes back to the days of Moses.
Stern said he joined the panel “more as a student than a presenter. Being in love with the law, I thought it would be at the very least a learning experience. One of the things I love about the Jewish culture is that even children are encouraged to question the reasoning behind things.”
The law that most Americans understand is made by human beings. Jewish law is made by God.
As his first example, Kornfeld explained the difference between the concepts of ownership in each system. In civil law, ownership became necessary to maintain order as soon as mankind left its cave dwellings and began to accumulate wealth.
But in Jewish law, ownership comes from God and can be traced back to Adam, the first man. And to own something is to have a deep mystical, God-given connection to it.
“What if something is lost and a person finds it?” asked Judge Fine.
“That’s next week’s class,” said Kornfeld.