Making judgments based on Talmudic point of view

Saturday, November 4, 2006

A man dies. His son wants to sell the house for more than it's worth, so he asks the assessor to give it a higher value for a cut of the profit. The assessor agrees, but the son then reneges on his end of the bargain.

Can the assessor legitimately claim he is owed the money?

That's an example of the cases that will be explored from a Talmudic point of view in the upcoming Jewish Learning Institute class "You Be the Judge: Behind the Steering Wheel of Jewish Law" offered by Chabad of Peoria starting this week.

The idea, said Rabbi Eli Langsam, is to give nonscholars a chance to see how the rabbis of the Talmud thought and to give it a shot themselves. Cases to be used in the six sessions are taken from the Talmud, the Jewish compendium of law and tradition, except for one from the Holocaust.

"Basically, we're going to turn the class into a study hall," Langsam said. "People are going to get a love and a taste for learning Talmud. You'll also get the perspective to see Jewish law work, come up with different rulings."

One of the unique things about Jewish law is that it extends to everyday life. What do you do if your neighbor's animal ends up on your property? Are you liable if you kill a man breaking into your house?

The written Torah - Genesis through Deuteronomy - lays down a plethora of laws for everything from murder and manslaughter to fraud and liability. The Talmud includes the written record of the oral Torah and commentary on it, including application of the laws in various cases.

Langsam said neither understanding of Aramaic or Hebrew nor previous knowledge of Talmud are needed. It's open to people of all faiths. Lawyers might particularly enjoy it, he said.

"For people that are practicing law, this is really a beautiful course for them," the rabbi said.

The class, developed by Rabbi Eli Silberstein, a Chabad rabbi at Cornell University, and Professor Jeremy Rabkin, a professor of government there, even qualifies in several states - not Illinois, though - for continuing legal education credits.

"It's very well written, very well done," Langsam said. "People walk out with a feeling of completing a course."

This is the fourth JLI class offered through Chabad of Peoria,

which is affiliated with the worldwide Lubavitch movement. The classes are offered to about 50,000 people in dozens of cities around the world at the same time, so students who have to travel during the six weeks don't have to miss a session. Registered students also have access to chat rooms on

Upcoming classes are "The Kabbalah of Character" this winter and "Flashbacks in Jewish History" in spring.

The classes will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays starting Nov. 8 at the Jewish Federation of Peoria, Suite 10B, 2000 W. Pioneer Parkway, Peoria, and from 10:30 a.m. to noon Tuesdays starting Nov. 14 at the Peoria Public Library's downtown facility. Cost is $90, which includes textbooks, with a 10 percent discount for couples.

For more information, call Chabad at 692-2250 or view

MICHAEL MILLER covers religion for the Journal Star. Write to him in care of the Journal Star, 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call him at 686-3106, or send e-mail to [email protected]. Comments may be published.