Monday, February 9, 2009

Last Will and Testament

One of the things that makes travel such a rich experience is that it helps us see our own lives and culture in a new light. We start to question things that we took for granted and assumed were natural. We rethink the conventions of our society, sometimes recognizing their arbitrariness, and at other times, gaining a new appreciation of our own native customs.

It is with the mindset of the world traveler that I welcome you to to our upcoming JLI course, You Be The Judge II. As we enter the age of the global economy and increasingly permeable borders, we will be challenged to move beyond our local interpretations of statutes and take a panoramic view of law. By stepping outside the legal system we are most accustomed to, we can appreciate diversity of thought, and place a mirror to our own unspoken assumptions. By learning the language of legal discourse, we gain new tools for the reshaping of our world.

In our first lesson, we will examine what happens when the letter of the law and its spirit are at odds. What happens when something “feels” so right or so wrong, but the law rules otherwise? Are letter and spirit two separate entities, fated to be irreconcilably at odds?

What happens, for example, when a murderer attempts to inherit his victim? To answer this question, we’ll have to explore differences between Jewish and American conceptions of the “Last Will and Testament.” Must this document be followed as written once the testator dies? Or are there circumstances in which a court is free to reinterpret the will in light of particular circumstances, events or new information?

For the most part, courts have found it ludicrous to allow these murderers to inherit the fruits of their sin. Jewish law, however, has an unusual analysis of this situation that sheds interesting light on the nature of ownership in general and inheritance in particular.

I look forward to some lively discussion and debate as we try to make sense of this outrageous situation.

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