Office of the Dean

Message from the Dean

The law is a complex system of enacted rules and delivered rulings. Jurists have to be widely familiar with the laws, regulations and judicial rulings that apply to the cases on which they work. However, legal education is never only just about memorizing these existing materials or developing the ability (important and complex in itself) to apply the known rules to a given set of facts. For this there are at least three reasons: the legal rules are changeable; the rules in force at a given moment never cover the entire range of situations that jurists have to deal with (i.e., the entire range of possibilities of human existence); and legal doctrine, as such, does not inherently indicate which of its existing rules should apply to the case in hand.

Therefore, the law is much more than the legal rules in force at a given moment. Command of the legal language includes also the ability to make legal arguments in an attempt to persuade other jurists, such as judges, to interpret an article of statute in a certain way, determine a ruling's sphere of application, or change the rule currently in force.

Not infrequently legal contentions rest, explicitly or implicitly, on an analysis of the particular issue through the lens of a theory of justice or the prism of behavioral incentives. Such considerations, like many others which may explain, clarify, justify, criticize or improve the law in a given human context, are relevant to the jurists who deal with that context because the law is intimately tied to people's lives. Thus, select chapters in political philosophy, ethics, economics, sociology, political science, history and so forth become part of the legal language. This is especially true in Israel after passage of the Basic Laws in 1992, which gave prominence to the law's normative dimension, to the centrality of legal enterprise to social structuring, and to the special place that law occupies in the distribution of both material and symbolic resources in the society in which we live.

The legal discourse is, however, more than just a responsible synthesis of insights drawn from the humanities and the social sciences. Since judicial decisions are made with regard to specific cases, the law brings together such theoretical insights with the wealth and complexity of the human predicament. In law, every abstract social issue is given a name and face and translated into concrete human experience. Jurists must therefore develop the skills of practical reason: sensitivity to the subtleties of different categories of human interrelations, and a facility for adjusting the legal treatment to the special characteristics of each. This is also the reason why the law examines new cases that come its way against the background of the vast human laboratory enshrined in legal doctrine. Legal arguments are never only forward-looking; jurists always rely on a rich reservoir of previous rulings. Part of the art of law is the ability to formulate new answers in reliance on such a doctrinal background.

Outstanding jurists—such as those we hope to educate at the Tel-Aviv University Buchmann Faculty of Law—succeed in combining a command of the rules in force and theoretical insights with the human skills of practical reason. To accomplish all of this, talent is not enough; as usual, hard work too is required. This is indeed a tremendous challenge, but a worthwhile one as well. Outstanding jurists touch at the core of human existence. Law studies provide them with the necessary knowledge and tools to participate effectively in the legal discourse, thus giving them also the ability to contribute to the society in which they live.

 

Sincerely,

Prof. Ron Harris      
 

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