Lawyers turn to Jewish ethics for continuing education

Lawyers turn to Jewish ethics for continuing education

Like all attorneys licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania, Lynn Snyderman is required to take 12 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) courses each year.

And like many local Jewish attorneys, she has found a way to avoid sitting through dry lectures on such subjects as “The Life Cycle of an IRS Trust Fund Case,” or “Hot Topics in Oil and Gas Law.”

For several years, local Jewish education purveyors such as the Agency for Jewish Learning, Chabad, the Kollel Jewish Learning Center, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, have been offering a viable alternative for lawyers needing to satisfy their CLE requirements by presenting fully accredited classes.

Those classes are on such topics as “Adultery in Jewish Law,” “Finding Kedusha, Holiness in the Legal Profession,” and “Intermarriage: A Halakhic Perspective.”

“I have been attending these classes for a number of years,” Snyderman said. “I attend mostly because they tend to be on interesting topics that combine legal questions with aspects of Judaism I might not have previously considered.”

Last week, Rabbi Danny Schiff, the former AJL community scholar, flew in from Israel to teach a CLE course on “Democracy in Jewish Law.” More than 85 people, the vast majority of them lawyers, attended the session.

Covering the topic of whether Judaism, at its core, embraces democracy, Snyderman found the session to be “extremely interesting.”

“It was something I had not previously thought about,” she said.

That particular CLE was sponsored by the Papernick family, in honor of Alan Papernick, and was free to all those attending. Other CLEs can cost hundreds of dollars per session.

In contrast to some CLEs offered by professional legal associations, the CLEs of Jewish ethics can be much more engaging, said attorney Jan Levinson.

“These CLEs are much different and, in many ways, on much more interesting subjects than you can get elsewhere,” said Levinson. “In your [legal] practice area, things don’t really change much from year to year. And with the AJL’s CLEs, the quality of teaching is much higher.

“When you are at some of the other CLEs, you are often looking at a video screen, watching some guy from Philadelphia,” Levinson continued. “Everyone is on their laptops, or reading the newspaper. In these [CLEs on Jewish topics], you never see anyone doing that because they are interested in the subject matter.”

The AJL began offering CLE courses 12 years ago to meet the needs for Jewish educational opportunities for study, and legal education credits mandated by the state, said Amy Karp, its adult education administrator.

Local rabbis and instructors have taught the courses, as well as national speakers such as Neil Gillman, Rabbi Mark Warshofsky and Jonty Blackman.

“We are always looking for populations to engage in Jewish learning,” said Ed Frim, executive director of the AJL. “This was a population with a niche.”

“The feedback we get from attorneys is that what we offer is more stimulating than what is offered outside the Jewish community,” Frim continued. “They say the classes contribute to their personal growth.”

A CLE course in medical ethics was offered last year by the Jewish Learning Institute of Chabad of Pittsburgh, according to Rabbi Yisroel Altein of Chabad. Chabad presents approved CLE courses in almost every state throughout the country.

The medical ethics course met one and a half hours a week for six weeks, providing its participants with nine hours of CLE credits, said Altein. Around 30 to 40 participants took the course locally last year.

Jews are not the only group to offer faith-based CLEs in Pennsylvania. Last month, the Duquesne University School of Law presented “Why Annulments Aren’t Divorces,” covering the history of marriage in the Catholic Church, and “explaining how the Church’s understanding of marriage as a sacrament developed and what its requirements are in the canon law of the Catholic Church,” according to the University’s website.

Those interested in obtaining Jewish-themed CLE credits online can look to Gratz College, which is also an approved provider in Pennsylvania.

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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