If Jewish law says you should do something, and the state says differently, what should an observant Jew do?
This is a central question of the upcoming lecture by UC Santa Cruz Professor and DIrector of the Center for Jewish Studies Nathaniel Deutsch. Entitled Custom, Jewish Law and State Authority, the talk will address the role of customs in Jewish law and how they sometimes conflict with other legal regimes.
For instance, Haredi or Ultra-Orthodox Jews are committed to not changing customs, even those which might seem far from "religious" practice, since they view them as a form of Torah or revealed law. “Customs may be connected to what clothing you wear, the language you speak, and the food you eat, and for these communities, custom is binding because it is considered part of the Jewish legal system, even if it sometimes comes into conflict with state law,” Deutsch said. Recently, for example, Jewish practices around circumcision and ritualized animal slaughter have clashed with state health regulations in the United States and Europe.
Yet these conflicts are not unique to Jewish communities. Many Muslims also maintain a strict adherence to custom and, in general, Jewish and Muslim legal approaches have significant parallels. For this reason, "Jews and Muslims often file amicus briefs in legal cases over hallal and kosher slaughter or when institutions or the state attempt to regulate beards and so on,” he said.The event, sponsored by the Hastings Jewish Law Students Association, Hillel San Francisco and the Jewish Graduate Student Initiative takes place on November 5 at 6:30 pm in the Alumni Reception Center at 200 McAllister Street. A reception with light kosher refreshments will follow the event.