Torah and Torts...
Posted Friday, Feb 20th, 2009

At a time when every other news story seems to involve a matter of ethics, Rabbi Meir Hecht is teaching his adult students - many of them lawyers - how to understand complicated ethical issues with help from the Torah.

Hecht is the coordinator for the Jewish Learning Institute, which is currently offering a class called "You Be The Judge," with Thursday morning and evening classes at Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie. (Childcare is available during the morning classes.) Lawyers can receive Continuing Legal Education and ethics credits through the class, but its lessons are for anyone - Jewish or non-Jewish-who is interested in pursuing the intersection between law and ethics, Hecht said in a recent phone conversation.

"We seek to inspire with our classes," he said. "Students who attend the courses will often find spiritual growth while they are pursuing intellectual understanding. It's a powerful path of discovery that touches the soul."

Participants will learn through study of actual cases that came up before civil or Jewish courts, or both, Hecht said. They'll ponder such intriguing questions as, can murderers inherit from their victims? Is possession always nine-tenths of the law? If a contractor discovers a hidden pile of cash in the walls of a home, who gets to enjoy the windfall?

With each case, the instructor will present the various ways of understanding it through sections from the Torah, Talmud or other Jewish commentaries, Hecht said. "We present the information and allow the students to try to answer the questions on their own. That allows a path of powerful personal intellectual discovery," he said.

While many other classes might lead students to ponder such questions from a purely intellectual point of view, this one goes farther, Hecht said. "It's important that people realize that Torah is not just for the sake of intellectual understanding," he said. "Torah is our guiding light, our life. Our courses focus on practical understanding, how it's relevant to a person's life, how a person can inspire their path of life by studying Torah."

Many aspects of law are covered, he said, as students learn how Torah teachings apply to such diverse issues as wills, property and workplace integrity. "But it's not just about dry law. Often it opens the eyes of people and helps them lead a much more ethical and better life," he said.

The last time the class was offered, some 300 people signed up, more than 200 of them lawyers, Hecht said. Not all were Jewish, and Hecht said the class is as relevant to non-Jews as to Jews, since the Torah's laws and methods of arriving at conclusions can apply to many situations.

At $200, the classes are much less expensive than many other CLE classes, Hecht said. But, he added, "it's not all about the CLE. It's for everyone to be able to study Torah in the most successful way for them, a way that is intriguing, in a professional format, a way they can appreciate and understand."

To register or for more information, call (847) 677-1770 or visit

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