Suzanne Last Stone '74, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University

Pictures of God, Pictures of Law

Mon, 03/03/2008
4:30 - 6:00 PM, Kerstetter Room, Marx Hall
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Suzanne Last Stone '74, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization, will present her paper, "Pictures of God, Pictures of Law" in this week's LAPA seminar. She is Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University. Arnd Wedemeyer, assistant professor in the Department of German at Princeton, will comment.


Renewed academic interest in political theology - in understanding the different pictures of God that drive political ideas - is a welcome change. In the case of a religious legal tradition such as Judaism, however, a focus on pictures of law as well as pictures of God, is crucial. This paper attempts to shift the paradigmatic picture of religious law (halakha) as seeking to form a total society governed by divine law by asking what alternative pictures of the halakha (in other words, what jurisprudential conceptions) actually anchor and emerge from two doctrines developed in medieval sources about royal law (the precursor to the state). I will also touch on how contemporary debates over Zionist nationalist ideology intersect with the jurisprudential arguments, concentrating on how the pictures of halakha anchoring the two major doctrines about royal law have been carried over and envisioned as correctives to excessive nationalism or statism. Aside from the importance of the issue on the ground, there are interesting parallels here to the American debates about resort to foreign law and transnational jurisprudence.

Suzanne Last Stone '74 is Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization. She has been a visiting professor at Harvard Law School (2004-2005), holding the Caroline Zelaznik Gruss and Joseph S. Gruss Visiting Chair in Talmudic Civil Law. She also has taught Jewish Law at Hebrew University Law School, Haifa Law School, Columbia University Law School, and the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to teaching courses on Jewish Law, Professor Stone teaches Civil Procedure, Federal Courts, and Law, Religion and the State. Some of her publications include: "In Pursuit of the Countertext: The Turn to the Jewish Legal Model in Contemporary American Legal Theory," in Harvard Law Review; "The Jewish Tradition and Civil Society" in Alternative Conceptions of Civil Society (Princeton University Press); and "Justice, Mercy and Gender in Rabbinic Thought," in Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature, reprinted in Women, Gender, and Jewish Philosophy, (Indiana University Press). She currently has two books in progress: Jewish Law and Legal Theory: A New American Perspective, based on her collected essays, and Jewish Law and the Irrational, a study of the talmudic transformation of formally irrational modes of gaining knowledge into a system of legal rationality. For more on Professor Stone, see her Cardozo Law profile page.

Arnd Wedemeyer is an assistant professor in the Department of German at Princeton. He studied philosophy at Cologne and Munich, and comparative literature at Johns Hopkins University. He joined the Princeton faculty in 2002. His dissertation, "Expanses of Thought," studies the impact of the philosophy of space on a progressively radicalized exteriorization of thought itself, from Descartes and Kant to Husserl and Heidegger. His current research centers on political history and thought, in particular the role of the state and the peculiarly German conceptions of Staatsrecht and Staatsräson. In this connection, he is presently working on a book about the year 1977 in the two German states. He is also pursuing two smaller projects, on on the role of the curse in political theology, the other on the figure of disintegration (Zerfall) in cultural criticism from Hegel to Botho Strauss. He has taught a wide variety of courses in and beyond the German Studies curriculum, including classes on postwar German literature, 20th-century constitutions, auteur cinema, postmodern fiction, and the modern Jewish experience. For more on Professor Wedemeyer, see his German department profile.