Talmudic, civil law similar, rabbi says his course comparing legal systems has turned out to be 'an eye-opener'

Posted Tuesday, Mar 16th, 2010
The Montreal Gazette

Moshe Krasnanski is not a lawyer, but he knows plenty about different concepts of law, notably Jewish civil law - the multiple life-governing facets of the Talmud, the massive compilation of oral teachings in written form and commentaries on them that is the central text for mainstream Judaism.

Before being ordained in his native New York as a rabbi - by another rabbi who, as per tradition, was ordained by another rabbi before him and so on generations back - he spent the better part of each day for 10 years studying the Talmud.

The learning continues, and now Krasnanski is taking his dedication to imparting how every aspect of daily life is infused by that doctrine to a new level by orchestrating the teaching of a special course that compares ancient Talmudic texts with Quebec civil law.

This week, Krasnanski wrapped up the first series of six such comparative sessions on topics ranging from business ethics and property rights to employment practices. He works out of the community centre Chabad of the Town (Town of Mount Royal), where he is executive director.

"It was an eye-opener for me," said Krasnanski, who taught and designed teaching programs in the United States before moving here 15 years ago. "Civil law is in many ways much closer to a lot of the Jewish law than common law (the legal system in the U.S. and elsewhere in Canada)."

Krasnanski obtained approval from the Quebec Bar to offer the course for credits under its mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) program that, since April of last year, requires that Quebec lawyers obtain 30 CLE credits each two years.

Building on a CLE course offered through the worldwide Jewish Learning Institute in many U.S. states and in British Columbia - jurisdictions where the common law tradition prevails - Krasnanski recruited local lawyers from big and small Montreal law firms to look at Talmudic interpretations of rights and wrongs defined by rabbis - in most cases a few hundred years ago - and explain to participants how the same issues might legally play out under the Quebec Civil Code.

Take the case of rights if a neighbouring property was sold.

Under Talmudic legal tradition, the neighbour next door would have the right to buy the property if it was sold to someone else, an inherent concept of social justice, the rabbi said.

Under the Quebec Civil Code, Spiegel Sohmer LLP litigator Barry Landy explained, there is a different but similar provision for undivided ownership when more than one person owns a property (other than a condo). Any co-owner of an undivided property, within 60 days of learning that his or her share was sold to someone else, has the right to buy out that person.

"We have our own concept of social justice (in Quebec) because, according to the Civil Code, everybody has to perform their obligations in good faith, and there are all kinds of provisions where neighbours have duties to each other," Landy said.

While the Talmudic comparison may seem esoteric, Jeff Orenstein, an Orenstein and Associates litigator, said learning other legal concepts "broadens your ideas and your foundation of law."

"If you read the Civil Code, it doesn't mean anything unless you understand the concepts behind it, which goes back to Roman law and was influenced by a lot of legal systems. The more you learn, the more you understand your own legal system," Orenstein said.

"It is amazing to think that a system that was created almost 2,000 years ago would, generally speaking, have the same kind of solutions to particular problems that we have almost 2,000 years later," said Yoine Goldstein, a McMillan LLP insolvency specialist and comparative law aficionado who attended some of the sessions.

"The Talmud does not enunciate principles like the Civil Code does," Goldstein said. "It gives very specific examples and points out what various rabbinic authorities have said about the issue in the hope and expectation that one can extrapolate and then apply to other similar situations. Our system of (civil) law goes from the general to the specific. You have an enunciation of the principles, but no specific cases and the assumption is you apply those principles to specific situations, so it makes for a very interesting study of different legal systems."

Other lawyers taking the challenge of giving presentations to more than 75 lawyers attending included class-action lawyer Irwin I. Liebman of Liebman and Associates; Stikeman Elliott LLP's Patrick Essiminy, an employment and labour law specialist; Mortimer G. Freiheit, a litigator specializing in representing financial institutions; and Mark Potechin, a tax lawyer with Phillips Friedman Kotler LLP.

More comparative discoveries of similarities and differences will be forthcoming, Krasnanski said.

A full list of the other continuing legal education courses for lawyers is available at: www.barreau.qc.ca/registre-activites-reconnues

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