The Faculty Then and Now

The Faculty Then and Now


-Prof. Joshua Weisman -

 Question: What do you think has changed at the Faculty since your day? 

I’ll mention a few changes that have occurred at the Faculty over the years. Some of the changes I’ll mention are welcome. As for the other kind of changes, it may well be that these only seem to me to be less welcome because of nostalgia and the tendency to long for the past, even when the past wasn’t so wonderful. 

The first generation of teachers at the Faculty was very diverse. I don’t think I had two teachers at the Faculty whose legal training was in the same country. The teachers who taught me received legal training in Italy, Austria, France, Belgium, England, and the United States. Naturally this influenced the content of the studies. We were exposed to comparative law in a very clear way back then, and that left a mark on the students who later became teachers at the Faculty. The comparative approach was second nature for many of them. 

Today, by contrast, when the whole world is subject of the influence of “globalization,” the Faculty has decided to confine itself to “Americanization.” Most of today’s teachers received their legal training for advanced degrees at universities in the United States. Naturally this has a strong influence on the subjects of the studies undertaken by the Faculty teachers today and on the teaching they provide. 

During the early years of the Faculty, its principal interest was the development of law in Israel. Teaching and research focused on Israeli law during this period. The Faculty’s Institute for Legislative Studies and Comparative Law received requests from the Ministry of Justice and other government departments to help prepare laws on various subjects. A team of researchers from diverse legal backgrounds worked at the Institute and focused mainly on comparative research regarding these proposed laws. 


Professor Joshua Weisman

During this period, Faculty teachers were often invited to lecture at training days for judges, and the Faculty’s publications from the period include several booklets of lectures given by Faculty teachers at such training courses. 

In preparing Faculty students for advanced degrees, the Faculty attempted in the past to encourage them to concentrate on Israeli-Jewish legal culture. Professor Tedeschi, for example, who was one of the pillars of the Faculty during its founding years, suggested that the Faculty council require students for doctorate degrees to pass an examination in Hebrew Law. His proposal recognized the fact that Hebrew law constitutes a central component of our cultural and legal tradition. 

Similarly, Professor Avigdor Levontin, a prominent teacher at the Faculty since its establishment, proposed that outstanding students beginning doctorate studies undertake their studies in Israel, rather than abroad, in order to ensure that their research subjects address Israeli law. He proposed that the important stage of exposure to overseas academia take place in the framework of post-doctorate training courses. 

Although these proposals did not enjoy universal approval at the time, they reflect the prevailing Zeitgeist. Back then, the Faculty saw its purpose as the development of Israeli law, and it concentrated most of its efforts in this direction. Over the years a change occurred in this respect and the focus of attention shifted outward. This is reflected in the fact that the Faculty effectively encourages students to undertake their doctorate studies abroad, and particularly at universities in the United States. The significant loss this entails in terms of research into Israeli law hardly needs to be explained. The important doctorate studies by the Faculty’s students are devoted to topics of interest to American law, rather than Israeli law. 

If the phenomenon of the Americanization of legal research were confined to the topics of doctorate theses, its damage would be limited. However, the Americanization of legal education in Israel has had far wider ramifications. Legal scholars in Israel tend to choose topics for their studies that are likely to appeal to the editorial boards of American law journals, and needless to say these boards have no particular interest in articles addressing Israeli law. 

The phenomenon of the reluctance of legal scholars to examine the law of their own country has reached an extreme in Israel that is exceptional in the world of legal research. 

This phenomenon has been discussed by Professor Oren Gazal-Ayal of the University of Haifa in his article “Comments on the Past and Future of the Economic Analysis of Israeli Law (published in Mechkarei Mishpat, Vol. 23 (2007), 661 (in Hebrew)), and by Professor Haim Zandberg of the College of Management Academic Studies (who also teaches frequently at the Faculty in Jerusalem) in his article “Cultural Colonialism: The Americanization of Law Education in Israel” (published in Hamishpat, 27 (2009), 52 (in Hebrew)). The following sentence, taken from Professor Gazal-Eyal’s article, expresses in a nutshell the anomalous situation in which we now find ourselves: 

“Law is still an essentially local discipline, and so it is perceived in most of the developed countries of the world… The [Israeli] academic system distances scholars more than anywhere else in the world from addressing domestic law.” (Ibid., 683) 

This anomalous situation is reflected in numerous ways in the life of the Faculty. In the past, for example, the Faculty would invite guests from leading positions in the Israeli law system to discuss topical issues and problems. The guests included the president of the Supreme Court, the attorney general, the state attorney, the justice minister, and so forth. Today, in most cases, the guests invited by the Faculty are law professors from the United States, who tell us about legal issues on the agenda of American society. 

Due to the federal character of the United States, and the legal differences between its various states, American law faculties that seek to function as national institutions generally avoid discussion of the law of any particular state. Instead, they focus in teaching and research on general and theoretical issues that are common to all the states. The study of the specific law of individual states is left to professional schools that provide the aspects not covered by university law studies after the students have graduated. 

Israel has adopted the American tendency to the theoreticization of law and the avoidance of national law, even though some of the considerations that explain this trend in the United States do not apply to Israel (the federative structure, as noted above). In the past, following the enactment of important laws or major court rulings, teachers from the Faculty would publish articles in Israeli law journals explaining, analyzing, and criticizing the relevant developments. This does not usually happen these days. In the past, the law journals regularly included columns such as “Case Law Comments” or “On the Sidelines of Legislation.” Such columns no longer form a regular part of contemporary law journals. 

This alienation in teaching and research from the legal system that applies in this country is a phenomenon that is unparalleled at law faculties in any other country, with the exception of the United States. 

Another recent development that is also the product of the adoption of the American model for legal research is the impact on writing and discourse at the Faculty itself. These increasingly take place in English, displacing the Hebrew language. Thus, for example, invitations to lectures at department seminars, workshops, and other Faculty activities routinely present the titles of the lectures in English only – even when the lecturer is an Israeli Faculty member, the audience consists solely of Israelis, and the lecture itself is given in Hebrew. In “War and Peace,” Tolstoy offers an ironic depiction of the fashion among the Russian intelligentsia of his day to pride themselves on their use of French, and to pepper their speech with French phrases, whether these were needed or not. Where is our own Tolstoy who could speak out against this English deluge?! 

The practice of charging students with the task of editing academic journals is not common at universities in the United States in fields other than law. For example, it is not accepted practice in journals in the fields of philosophy, medicine, or mathematics. This practice is certainly not accepted in the wider academic world: we will not find it at the top universities in Paris, Oxford or London, where it is understood that the task of editing requires professional specialization and experience. 

It may be that when Israeli academics adopted the unusual American model in this respect, they failed to give due attention to an important distinction between law students in the US and their Israeli peers. In the United States, law is a postgraduate field. In other words, students entering an American law faculty already hold an academic degree. In Israel, by contrast, the formal educational background of most law students is confined to their high school matriculation certificate. 

I will conclude my comments about our Faculty then and now by mentioning some innovations we have adopted from the American model that have not provoked disagreement and objections. For example, the curriculum originally included a large number of compulsory subjects. Under the influence of the American model, many of these subjects are now elective. Another decision, taken during the early days of the Faculty, was to adopt the principle of anonymity in examinations. This was probably also a product of American influence, and this principle was later adopted by the other faculties at the university. Lastly, the placement system, which helps students find internships, is clearly a welcome imitation of the system used at law faculties in the United States. 

To sum up: Over the years, our Faculty has managed to become one of the best “faculties of American law” in the United States. The challenge it faces is how not to allow this achievement to come at the expense of its character as the best Israeli law faculty.