Launching Versa

Launching Versa

Michael E. Herz and Suzanne Last Stone
December 24, 2014


In August 1958, Hebrew University of Jerusalem hosted an International Lawyers Convention.  At the conclusion of three days of proceedings, attended by many leading jurists and academics from around the world, the distinguished British judge Sir Patrick Devlin rose to bring things to a close by offering a resolution.  His focus was on the inaccessibility of the decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court, and he wondered whether a way could not be found to translate them from Hebrew.  “We are not asking you to do something for yourselves; we are asking you to do something for us.  We really feel that American and English jurisprudence will suffer a real loss if something is not done to make available to English and American courts the judgments that have been given in this country.”  Accordingly, he offered the following resolution, which passed unanimously:

This Convention, in the course of its deliberations, been referred to judgments of the Israel Supreme Court which have dealt with matters of interest and importance to the legal profession generally. These judgments are now reported only in Hebrew, and cannot therefore be used and studied by anybody not familiar with the language. This Convention, therefore, expresses its opinion that a translation into English of judgments of the Israel Supreme Court would be of great value to courts and members of the legal profession outside Israel.

It is with that goal, and in that spirit, that The Israel Supreme Court Project at the Cardozo Law School has been founded.

Like many stirring and unanimously adopted resolutions, alas, Baron Devlin’s did not prove self-executing.  To be sure, meaningful efforts were made.  The Court itself started to arrange for the translation of a small set of its opinions.  Decisions from 1948-1992 appear in the 10-volume Selected Judgments of the Supreme Court of Israel.  Then, in 1992, this effort passed to a new non-profit organization, the Friends of the Library of the Supreme Court of Israel.  For two decades, the Friends did wonderful work selecting and funding the translation of opinions of general interest and significance.  Those translations—about ten cases a year--are posted to the Court’s website and published in hard copy in the United States by William S. Hein & Co. as Israel Law Reports.

This important undertaking has now passed to the newly created Israeli Supreme Court Project at the Cardozo School of Law, of which the two of us have the privilege to be co-directors.  The mission of the Project is to

  • Make the opinions of the Israeli Supreme Court readily available in English to a much wider audience than previously possible.
  • Inform and engage constitutional scholars, lawyers, and judges in democracies around the world.
  • Be a center for the study and discussion of the decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court.
  • Deal with the complex and challenging questions facing open and multi-cultural societies everywhere.

You have made your way to the most visible part of the project, i.e., this website, which we are calling "Versa."  Here you will find, most importantly, English translations of over 200 past opinions from the Court on topics such as religious liberty, national security, judicial review, immigration, freedom of expression, and many others--all of which arise in the particular Israeli context but have implications and applications for scholars and jurists in any other constitutional democracy wrestling with the same fundamental problems.  In addition, the site has or will have extensive information, commentary, links, and discussion about the Court.  And, of course, going forward we will continue and expand the translation project, producing more, more timely translations, than ever before.

The Israeli Supreme Court is admired for many things.  One of them is its extraordinary building.  When the building opened its doors in 1995, New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger gave it a rave.  Calling it “Israel’s finest public building” (a designation he acknowledged was “faint praise”), Goldberger celebrated the “skillful” way the building combined “a sense of monumentality with a sense of easy, inviting accessibility,” its “serene sense of coherence,” the way in which “the sharpness of the Mediterranean architectural tradition and the dignity of the law are here married with remarkable grace,” and “the thoughtfulness [that went into] the building, which has been designed with consistent attention to the needs of all of its users.”

A website is a much more modest undertaking than a monumental courthouse.  Indeed, any comparison might seem to be between the sublime and the ridiculous.  But in our more modest way we hope that this website, like the Court’s building, will be accessible, inviting, coherent, and serve the needs of all its users.  We welcome your feedback, and look forward to providing an important new window into the work of this extraordinary institution.

Michael Herz and Suzanne Stone teach at the Cardozo School of Law and are Co-Directors of the Israeli Supreme Court Project.