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Elon (Fetter), Menachem

ELON (Fetter), MENACHEM

ELON (Fetter ) , MENACHEM (1922– ), Israeli jurist and Supreme Court justice. Born in Dueseldorf, Germany, Elon immigrated to Palestine in 1935. After eight years of study at the Hebron Yeshivah in Jerusalem, where he was ordained as a rabbi, Elon was awarded an M.A. degree in humanities (cum laude), and a doctor of laws degree (cum laude) from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he subsequently taught for over 40 years. From 1959 to 1966 Elon was adviser on Jewish Law to the Israel Ministry of Justice. From 1966 he taught Jewish Law at the Hebrew University, where he founded and directed the Institute for Research in Jewish Law.

Elon was appointed to the Supreme Court of Israel in 1977 and was named deputy president of the Court in 1988. He was awarded the Israel Prize in 1979 for his classic work, the authoritative four-volume Ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri (Eng. version: Jewish Law: History, Sources, Principles, 1994). It compares Jewish legal traditions and modern legal systems, emphasizing both the differences between them and their common denominators. The work became the classic textbook in universities and law schools in Israel and abroad in Jewish Law.

The first part of the work deals with the history and elements of Jewish Law, its scientific study and its impact - as a living legal system - on Jewish history and society. The second section deals systematically with the various legal sources of Jewish Law such as exegesis (midrash) and interpretation, legislation, custom (minhag), precedent, and legal reasoning. The third section is devoted to a broad description of the literary sources of Jewish Law, from biblical times until the modern era, including the basic sources (Bible, Mishnah, and Talmud) and their interpretation, the commentaries and novellae literature, the codificatory literature, and the vast responsa literature. The fourth part deals extensively with the implementation of Jewish Law in the modern legal system, particularly in Israeli legislation and case law. Elon, together with his predecessors (such as Judges S. *Assaf, M. Zilberg, and H. *Cohen), made a remarkable and most important contribution to the implementation of Jewish Law in hundreds of judgments he wrote while serving as a Supreme Court judge. Amongst his most important and renowned judgments are the decision enabling women to serve as active local religious council members, a decision forbidding active euthanasia, and a decision forbidding imprisonment for civil debt.

Elon's attitude in the study of Jewish Law can be characterized by three main qualities: (1) research into all periods of Jewish Law (unlike his predecessors, who focused on the biblical and talmudic periods) and the intensive use of post-talmudic legal sources, in particular the vast responsa literature; (2) historical-analytical methodology, analytically examining each legal institution while examining at the same time how its development was affected both by time and place; (3) emphasis on the potential of Jewish Law to contribute to the modern legal system and indication of how its principals should be implemented in modern law, legislation, and judgments alike.

Elon published many works on the history and nature of Jewish Law and the relationship between it and the modern State of Israel, including The Freedom of the Person of the Debtor in Jewish Law (1964, 20002), Religious Legislation in the Laws of the State of Israel and within the Jurisdiction of the Civil and Rabbinical Courts (1968), Jewish Law (Mishpat Ivri): Cases and Materials (1999), and The Status of Women: Tradition and Transition (2004). From 1968 to 1971 he was editor of the Jewish Law section of the Encyclopaedia Judaica, whose entries were subsequently collected in his Principles of Jewish Law. By 1984 he had edited ten volumes of the Annual of the Institute for Research in Jewish Law of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and also edited Indices to the Responsa of Jewish Law (5 vols.).

Elon established Chairs of Jewish Law at the Harvard School of Law, New York University, and McGill University, Montreal, and was the founder of the Institute for Research in Jewish Law of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1963) and the Center for the Study and Research of Jewish Law at Sha'arei Mishpat College (1997), where he served as dean until 2003. From 1995 Elon also served as the president of the World Union of Jewish Studies and continued to serve as editor of the Jewish Law section of the second edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica.

[Aviad Hacohen (2nd ed.)]

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