Menachem Elon and Mishpat Ivri
Prof. Menachem Elon z”l was one of the scholars most responsible for promoting the school of Mishpat Ivri, or “Hebrew Law.” Prof. Elon defined Mishpat Ivri in the following manner:
The term mishpat Ivri…is now generally accepted as embracing only those matters of the halakhah (Jewish law) whose equivalent is customarily dealt with in other present-day legal systems, that is, matters pertaining to relations between man and man and not the precepts governing the relationship between man and his Maker. (From the entry “Mishpat Ivri” in the Encyclopaedia Judaica.)
Prof. Elon supported integrating into the modern Israeli legal system aspects and principles of Jewish Law whose subject matter is shared with other modern legal systems.
There were numerous opponents to this approach, from both secular and religious circles. One opponent of such an approach from a religious perspective is Yitzhak Englard, who at one point also sat on the Israeli Supreme Court. In 1976 Englard published an article in the Hebrew journal Mishpatim that criticized the Mishpat Ivri approach from numerous angles. One of Englard’s main points was that Jewish Law cannot be “secularized” and taken out of its religious context. This article was responded to by Elon in a subsequent issue. Both Englard’s original article and Elon’s rejoinder, along with other articles on the topic, were published in the important volume Modern Research in Jewish Law, ed. Bernard S. Jackson.
Online there are a number of important articles and sources that discuss Mishpat Ivri. A short description of Elon’s approach to Mishpat Ivri that is available online is the introduction to this article by Bernard S. Jackson, as is Menachem Elon’s entry in the Encyclopaedia Judaica Mishpat Ivri. Hebrew readers can find much helpful information in this profile of Menachem Elon and his work. A recent discussion in Hebrew of the relationship between Mishpat Ivri and Halakhah from the journal Akdamot can be found here, here, and here. A very good discussion of the historical and intellectual background of the Mishpat Ivri movement can be found in Assaf Likhovski’s The Invention of ‘Hebrew Law’ in Mandatory Palestine.
There are a number of other important discussions of these issues that aren’t available online. In addition to the above mentioned volume edited by Bernard S. Jackson, a good place to start are certain parts of the chapter “Halakhah and Law” in the Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies. Also important are certain sections of his book Jewish Law: History, Sources, Principles that expand upon discussions found in his EJ entry.
May Elon’s contribution to the study of Jewish Law continue through his writings and teachings, his students, and those who see themselves as his students.