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Postcard from Abroad
Jon Tannen in Israel

Posted August 9, 2007

Dear Friends:

I am writing from Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, where for the last twelve weeks I have been working as a foreign law clerk in the office of Justice Asher Grunis of the Israeli Supreme Court. The Israeli legal system is based largely on British common law, with added elements of civil and Jewish law. Because Israel is a relatively young country—next year will be the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state—it lacks the substantial background of case law found in other common law systems. To gain greater perspective on issues raised by pending cases, many of the justices are interested in how similar issues have been handled in other legal systems. Each justice is allowed to take on foreign volunteers, usually law students or recent graduates, to do comparative legal research.

Iaraeli Supreme Court
The Israeli Supreme Court

My work is assigned directly by Justice Grunis (who, incidentally, holds an LL.M. from Virginia Law). The justice specializes in civil procedure and contract issues, so most of my assignments at the Court have been related to those areas. Still, the range of questions has been fairly diverse: One week I’ll be asked to research a straightforward question of American precedent, and the next I’m studying theories of jurisprudence underlying Israeli legal principles. The most interesting part of this job has been getting to work closely with the justice and his staff and observing firsthand how similar issues are treated differently between legal systems (or, as may more often the case, between judges with different judicial philosophies).

Tannen with Justice Gruner
Tannen and Justice Grunis

Jerusalem itself is an incredible city. My apartment is just off of Davidka Square, about halfway between the Ben Yehuda St. pedestrian mall, one of the main shopping areas for foreign tourists, and the Machne Yehuda shuk (open air market), which has a more Middle Eastern atmosphere. Just north of me is the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim, and the Old City is only a 20-minute walk down Jaffa Street. There seem to be great restaurants everywhere and just last week a group of clerks from the court went to the Jerusalem Wine Festival at the Israel Museum. Nice Jewish boy that I am, I’ve also attended services at landmarks like the Western Wall and the Great Synagogue of Jerusalem. And to answer a few concerns about security expressed before I left, I have never once felt unsafe walking down a Jerusalem street.

Tannen's apartment view
The view from Tannen's apartment

The summer is coming to a close, and many of the clerks, both foreign and Israeli, are finishing this week. The court has proved to be an incredibly warm environment, and I’m going to miss the diverse, often brilliant, always entertaining group that works here. I feel very grateful for having had this unique opportunity to develop as a legal writer and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at Virginia Law again in a few weeks. So until then—Shalom!

Jaffa Gate
The Jaffa Gate

Jon Tannen