An Interview with Professor Eliezer Rivlin

A New Law Faculty Member / An Interview with Professor Eliezer Rivlin


Professor Eliezer Rivlin, Deputy President (retired) of the Supreme Court, has joined the Faculty * We interviewed Professor Rivlin after he gave a lecture to the Legal Club of Faculty alumni and members * Professor Rivlin discussed his return to the academic world

Professor Rivlin only recently joined the Faculty, but he already had a chance to participate in the February meeting of the Legal Club, which brings together alumni and Faculty members. The meeting was hosted by the Nazareth Bar and focused mainly on issues from the field of damages law. The lecturers included the dean of the Law Faculty, Professor Yuval Shany, as well as Professors Israel Gilad and Khaled Husni Zoabi. The meeting ended with audience contributions, providing an opportunity for the alumni to share their views and thoughts.

"“Some of the participants in the event were my students during my earlier work in teaching,” Professor Rivlin relates. As will already be apparent, Professor Rivlin is no newcomer to academic life. For several years, and alongside his work as a judge, Rivlin taught various courses at our Faculty and in Tel Aviv University and the College of Administration. However, after his appointment to the Supreme Court he was no longer able to perform both functions. Rivlin has now retired from his position as Deputy President of the Court, and from the next academic year he will begin to teach a seminar together with Professor Barak Medina on the subject of constitutional issues, as well as a course on advanced issues in damages law.


Is there any added value in having Faculty members who have also worked in the legal system?

"“I think the combination of theory and practice is one that interests the students. It helps them to  be exposed to the perspective of someone who has put legal theory into practice and to learn how legal principles, theories and rules are actually implemented by the courts.”

What is the main difference between legal practice and academic work?

"“With hindsight, I can see a difference in terms of legal practice between the period when I worked in primary legal instances and my period on the Supreme Court. In the Supreme Court the point of gravity in the judicial work restswith the legal analisis hereas in the primary courts the focus is on the  reading the facts, managing the trial, processing the factual data, and drawing conclusions. Another difference is that the Supreme Court rulings constitute a binding precedent and effectively establish legal rules. This in itself means often that the Supreme Court engages in very extensive research, which brings us back to the academic field. This process of research touches on a wide range of fields. Personally, I found this combination of academia and practice very important . The transition now isn’t particularly dramatic for me, since I taught for extended periods in the past. Even during my time on the Supreme Court I felt that I was involved in the academic side of the profession.”







Professor Eliezer Rivlin

So I gather that there are many similarities between work on the Supreme Court and academic work. 

"“We can see a welcome tendency in Israel that is not found in other legal systems to quote academic articles and literature in the court rulings themselves – and particularly to quote Israeli academics. Many rulings draw on academic work. In my opinion this is an interesting and welcome phenomenon. It creates mutual feedback and both sides can only benefit from this situation. Academia learns from court rulings,  it also studies and criticizes them.”


What is your impression of the future generation of jurists here in the Faculty?


"“I don’t want to compare one generation to another, but we have an excellent generation of students here now. It’s interesting to teach them because they bring fascinating insights, criticism and theoretical analysis. Teaching methods have changed, of course, and we also have a new generation of lecturers. My impression is that there is a very high standard of critical thoughts, and presumably this is a tool that has been acquired in the Faculty of Law. When we discuss court rulings in class, it’s clear that the students have read the rulings critically and intelligently. I think that when they reach the stage in life when they begin to put their ideas down in writing, they will find the courts very receptive to what they have to say.”



In what ways do you think the teaching methods have changed?


"“There’s a stronger emphasis now on a multidisciplinary approach, which wasn’t the case in my day. The legal profession used to be taught in isolation, without any multidisciplinary references. Things have changed, of course, and now we have programs that combine law with economics, psychology, feminism, and so forth. These combinations add numerous aspects and tools to law itself. For example, the economic analysis of law provides tools that enhance our understanding of the consequences of the judicial act. Judges naturally continue to be responsible for applying normative decisions, but methods such as law and psychology, law and economics, can provide tools for understanding the ramifications of these decisions in the field.”

Do you have any expectations as you return to the academic world?

"“The main thing is that I have come back to a field that I like. I feel that I have come home. I always thought that when I grew up I would be a university professor. Well, I’ve certainly grown up now and I can realize my dream of teaching at university as my main occupation.”