An adult education course is asking thousands of people around the world to look to the millennia-old Jewish legal system in order to evaluate modern-day cases.

Coming as a second installment to the “You Be the Judge” series offered by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, the adult education arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, the new six-week course – “An Exhilarating New Exploration of Jewish Civil Law” – harkens back to the Talmud and more recent case law to examine such issues as what to do if a contractor demolishes a wall and discovers a large sum of cash. Who is entitled to the unexpected windfall?

But according to Rohr JLI director Rabbi Efraim Mintz, the answer is up to each participant to decide, based on their understanding of an ancient system of Jewish laws that throughout the ages has been applied to an ever-changing world. The curriculum was written by a team of legal experts and Talmudic scholars.

“Every person struggles with what is just and right,” explains Judge Randye Kogan, an associate justice for the Circuit Court of Cook County in Illinois and a student in the new course. “Through examining the writings in the Talmud, it is possible to bring insight and make sounder judgments.”

Rabbi Meir Hecht, the director of the Rohr JLI’s Chicago branch who introduced Kogan to the first “You Be the Judge” class in 2006, says that in his area, the class roster counts not only legal professionals, but a cross-section of the Jewish community.

The same is true in Kansas City, where Rabbi Mendy Wineberg, the program director of the Chabad House Center teaches the course to separate groups of 30 students twice weekly.

A Rohr JLI student processes some information from a recent course. (Photo: Menachem Serraf)
A Rohr JLI student processes some information from a recent course. (Photo: Menachem Serraf)

Leslie Turner, a local attorney, says that she shares tidbits of the class with her friends.

“I find the classes informative,” she adds. “It’s very easy to apply its basic principles.”

Steve Parker, a lawyer from Santa Fe, N.M., stresses that an added reason for his participation is the chance to earn Continued Legal Education credits recognized by his state bar.

“The previous classes were so interesting,” says Parker. “I find myself leaving the office early just to get a head start on the material.”