Dalhousie Journal of Legal Studies


Ilan Dunsky


It is important to examine the underlying philosophy of the legal institution. The law, as it exists today in Canada, is largely the product of liberalism, and though that ideology is very elastic and flexible, there are other ways of understanding the world and thus the law. This paper examines one such alternative: Jewish law, which has endured for three and one half thousand years, and which, through its derivative religions, Christianity and Islam, has had a profound effect on the thought of a large part of the world. In discussing Jewish law from the vantage point of the late Twentieth Century, it is necessary to note that while many of the concepts in Jewish jurisprudence have parallels in Western legal thought, there are also many differences. The very concept of 'law' is one such example, and will be discussed in this paper. Further, the concept of the state in Western jurisprudence does not really exist at all in Jewish law and must for the purposes of comparison, be replaced by related concepts such as community or society. It is therefore inaccurate to speak of one monolithic corpus of Jewish law. However, in a paper of this length it would be impractical to attempt a synthesis of the subject. Discussion in this paper is limited to an examination of two principal assumptions and beliefs underlying Jewish law: the concept of morality and the relationship between the law and messianism. Throughout its development, Jewish law has demonstrated a pre-occupation with morality. This paper shows how this morality has developed from a narrow concept to a general one, given to increasingly liberal and humanistic interpretations. The relationship between the law and messianism, or the idea of human perfection, gives Jewish law a characteristic which is alien to liberal thought; unlike Western jurisprudence, Jews see the law as an agent of human evolution.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Included in

Law Commons