News Archive

New Institute to Expand Jewish and Israel Studies at UC Berkeley

By Andrew Cohen

Berkeley Law has launched a new institute that will expand Jewish and Israel studies on the UC Berkeley campus. 

The Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israeli Law, Economy and Society reflects both a flourishing of Jewish legal studies in U.S. law schools and a national surge in the academic study of Israel.

Funded by a $750,000 seed gift from The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, the institute is guided by 15 faculty members from across campus in a diversity of disciplines, including economics, business, political science, history, sociology, and Jewish studies.

“The institute creates important opportunities for new research, programming, colloquia, and course development,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau. “It will make a measurable contribution to scholarly inquiry and discourse across our campus.”

The institute will run two distinct programs—one on Jewish Law, the other on Israeli Law, Economy and Society.

The Jewish Law program will broaden the resources available for Jewish legal study through programming, research support, and classes. It will augment the number of Jewish studies offerings for graduate and undergraduate students and sponsor major program-related campus events.

The Israeli Law, Economy and Society program will work with other campus units and professors to achieve key objectives: foster faculty and student research, expand curricular offerings, host speakers and symposia, and expand collaborations with Israeli universities and academics.

“We’re working to support broader discourse on campus around Jewish and Israel-related scholarship,” said institute faculty director Kenneth A. Bamberger, a constitutional and administrative law scholar who teaches courses in Jewish law and ethics. “We want to better serve UC students interested in studying these topics in-depth. Our programming will be truly interdisciplinary in scope and scholarship.”

Berkeley Law Dean Christopher Edley, Jr. said the Gilbert Foundation’s gift allows Berkeley Law to “bolster existing Jewish and Israel programming on campus with the added perspective of legal scholarship, and to better compete with comparable offerings at our peer universities.”

The institute also builds on the law school’s “historic strengths in religious law,” Edley said,  including its Robbins Religious Law Collection and Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Law. 

Both the law school and its Center for the Study of Law & Society (CSLS) have consistently attracted Israeli scholars. Daniella Beinisch, the institute’s executive director and a former CSLS fellow, said Berkeley Law’s faculty “has been an important resource for individuals doing academic work on Israel.”

The institute’s faculty advisory board includes several other law faculty, including Professor Malcolm Feeley, who formerly led UC’s Israel Center in Jerusalem; Professor Laurent Mayali, director of Berkeley Law’s Comparative Legal Studies Program and its Robbins Religious and Civil Law Collection; and former law school Dean Jesse Choper, a scholar of law and religion.

Bamberger noted that the institute further complements existing strengths of the University: its prestigious Jewish studies faculty, who have trained generations of scholars now in top departments across the U.S.; and its national leadership in “area studies”—the interdisciplinary study of a particular country or individual region.

He said UC Berkeley’s celebrated merger last fall with the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, and the construction of the Magnes’s state-of-the-art center in downtown Berkeley, will further foster synergies between academic units across campus.

The institute’s activities began this semester. Its Israel program is hosting visiting political science professor Menachem Hofnung of Hebrew University to teach undergraduates, and it has launched a monthly faculty colloquium on Israeli Law, Economy and Society. The Jewish Law program recently hosted Yeshiva University Professor Suzanne Stone, who delivered the Robbins Collection Lecture; it also inaugurated a new course in Jewish law and ethics. Both institute programs have launched graduate student scholarship working groups.

“We are extremely excited by the success the institute has already achieved in supporting faculty and students,” said Martin H. Blank Jr. ‘66, chief operating officer and director of the Gilbert Foundation. “We look forward to attracting partners in enabling the Institute to build on these accomplishments in the future.”

In coming semesters, the institute’s faculty will introduce additional courses in Israeli history and constitutional law, expand Jewish Law offerings to undergraduates, and host its first annual campus-wide conference, on Israel as a high-tech nation.

A formal launch event, co-hosted by Birgeneau and Edley—and featuring former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner as the keynote speaker—is planned for April 6, 2011.