Newswise — The University of California, Berkeley, School of Law has launched a new institute to expand and diversify Jewish and Israel studies on campus. The Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israeli Law, Economy and Society is an interdisciplinary initiative that 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 diverse disciplines including economics, business, political science, history, sociology, and Jewish studies.

“These are fast-emerging fields in higher education,” said Berkeley Law Dean Christopher Edley. “The Gilbert Foundation’s generous gift allows us 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 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.

Dean Edley said the institute “builds on the law school’s historic strengths in religious law,” including its Robbins Religious Law Collection and its Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Law. “It also capitalizes on our cross-disciplinary and comparative approach to law and society and our longstanding collaborations with Israeli scholars and academic institutions,” he said.

The institute 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. 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.

“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.”

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 Rosalinde and Arthur 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 featuring former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Dalia Dorner as the keynote speaker is planned for April 6, 2011.

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