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Jewish Scholar Says Non-violent Civil Disobedience Traditional in Jewish History

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A Yeshiva University historian claimed today that civil disobedience, far from being a phenomenon of the nineteen-sixties, has a long tradition in Jewish history, although it rarely if ever resulted in violence. According to Dr. Leo Landman, assistant professor of history at Yeshiva’s Bernard Revel Graduate School, Jewish civil disobedience dates back as far as the third century and stemmed from the condition of Jews in the diaspora.

Writing in the current issue of the magazine “Tradition.” Prof. Landman said that “As long as Jews lived in their own land they had but one allegiance: namely to the law handed to Moses and developed by their sages. As soon as they were in exile, however, there was the dilemma of those who, as law abiding citizens, wished to obey the laws and enactments of the state while on the other hand wished to adhere to the Torah and Talmudic laws.” Prof. Landman said that the question was resolved by Samuel, a third century scholar and expert on civil law who proposed the principle that “the law of the state was the law, and that in conflict, accommodations would be possible in Jewish civil law.”

In practice, according to Dr. Landman, Jews obeyed the law of the state only when it improved the welfare of the state but protested unjust laws. “Failure of a civil law to gain rabbinic sanction would leave a Jew who benefited from the law without the backing of the Jewish court,” Dr. Landman wrote. “A Jew appealing a rabbinic decision to the gentile court would be considered an outcast by the Jewish community.”

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