New Exhibition: “Justice, justice shall you pursue”: Jewish Law from Biblical Times to the Present”

Arthur Szyk PosterJewish Law has a history of more than three thousand years. This extended time, can be divided in two main periods: The first broad period begins with the written Torah and ends with the completion of the Talmud. The second broad period is the post-Talmudic period, from the completion of the Talmud until our own day (Elon, Menachem. Jewish law: history, sources, principles).

The Hebrew word “halakhah” is usually translated as “Jewish Law”, although a more literal translation might be “the path that one walks”. The word is derived from the Hebrew root Heh-Lamed-Kaf, meaning to go, to walk, or to travel (Encyclopaedia Judaica).

The principles and rules of Jewish Law are based on the Bible. While some rules are mentioned quite explicitly, others are only implied. All are elucidated in the teachings of the Tanna’im and Amora’im – the Rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud – and presented systematically in the codes. Thus, over the generations, a comprehensive legal system has developed.

Jewish tradition compares Jewish law to a living tree. As the Torah, the sacred scroll of the Five Books of Moses, is returned to the ark after being read in synagogue services, the liturgy quotes from the biblical book of Proverbs (4:2, 3: 18, 17): I give you good instruction; never forsake My Torah. It is a tree of life for those who hold fast to it, and those who uphold it are happy. Its ways are pleasant, and all its paths are peace. (A Living Tree. Roots and Growth of Jewish Law)

JEWISH LAW EXHIBITION title2The books for this exhibition come from the holdings of the Rare Books and Special Collections, the Nahum Gelber Law Library Special Collections, and the Humanities and Social Science Library.

Among the books presented we find a volume of the Ḥamishah ḥumshe Torah: ketav yad Temani. This is a facsimile edition of 390 copies of a manuscript of the Pentateuch, in accordance with the Yemenite tradition, with the Targum, Tafsir of Saʼadya Gaon and the Collecteana of R. Yaḥya Siani.

A miniature Shulchan Aruch, printed in Venice, in 1574. The Shulchan Aruch, or “Set Table” is a codification of Jewish law composed by Rabbi Joseph Karo in the 16th century. Together with its commentaries, it is considered the most authoritative compilation of halakha since the Talmud.

The book Sefer ha-hinukh: yavo’u vo ha-613 mitsvot, yesod Torat Moshe u-nevuato, was also printed in Venice in the Jewish year 361 [1600 or 1601]. This is an anonymous work on the 613 precepts in the order of their appearance in Scripture, giving their reasons and their laws in detail. The book is mainly based on the Sefer ha-Mitzvot and the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides.

IMG_4131One of the centerpieces is The Codex Maimuni: Moses Maimonides’ Code of law: the illuminated pages of the Kaufmann Mishneh Torah. This book, published in 1984 reprints sixty-eight of the most beautiful pages from the illuminated codex of the Kaufmann Mishneh Torah, one of the most outstanding surviving exemplars of mediaeval Hebrew book production.

A surviving example of Das talmudische Recht : auf den verschiedenen Stufen seiner Entwicklung mit dem römischen verglichen und systematisch dargestellt. Sachenrecht by S. Rubin (Wien: Druckerei-und Verlags-A.-G. Ig. Steinmann. 1938). This copy was printed in Viena, in 1938. According to a review written by W. R. Taylor, the author has planned a study of Talmudic law to be embraced in three volumes. The purpose of the project, according to Taylor, was to bring the Talmudic legislation into a scientific arrangement in harmony with modern methods and to institute a comparison of the Talmudic material with the relative parts of Roman law. At the end of each chapter there are extensive notes inclusive of references, citations, and expositions of maxims from the Talmud and the later codes of Maimonides, Asher, and Karo, and from Roman law.

Ioannis Seldeni, De synedriis & praefecturis juridicis veterum Ebraeorum. Londini: Typis Jacobi Flesher: Prostant apud Cornelium Bee …, 1650-1655. John Selden, 1584-1654, was an English jurist and a scholar of England’s ancient laws and constitution and a scholar of Jewish law. In 1650 Selden began to print the trilogy he planned on the Sanhedrin, the assembly of sages that constituted the highest political magistracy of the country.

IMG_4154 IMG_4157This exhibition was planned and organized by Sonia Smith and Svetlana Kochkina, librarians at the Nahum Gelber law Library.

Une nouvelle acquisition : Le code Henry IV … avec des violettes.

Grace à la générosité du Wainwright Fund, qui attribue chaque année un budget destiné au développement et élargissement de la collection de notre bibliothèque dans les domaines du droit civil non-québécois, nous avons ajouté un nouveau livre rare à la Collections Wainwright :

  • Le code du très-chrestien et très-victorieux roy de France et de Nauarre, Henry IIII : Du droit ciuil iadis descrit, & à nous delaissé confusément par l’Empereur Iustinian & maintenant reduit & composé en bon & certain ordre, avec le droit ciuil de la France, contenant trente & vn liures / par M. Thomas Cormier …

photo 2L’auteur, Thomas Cormier (c.1523-1600), a été un historien et jurisconsulte français et un président en l’échiquier d’Alençon. Son Code Henry IV n’est pas un recueil d’ordonnances du souverain comme le Code Henry III, qu’on détiens aussi dans notre collection, mais un traité de droit civil où l’auteur compare le droit romain et le droit civil français. L’ouvrage, destinée aux étudiants et praticiens de droit, est une synthèse du droit romain de Justinien qui selon l’auteur “à nous délaissé confusément par l’Empereur Justinien et maintenant réduit et composé en bon et certain ordre” auquel Cormier a ajouté du droit  français et plus précisément du droit français tel qu’il a été suivi en Normandie. Le traité a été rédigé d’abord en langue latine (1602) et traduit en français en 1603.

photo 5 photo 3L’exemplaire récemment acquis pour notre bibliothèque est notable par sa rareté (à notre connaissance il y a une seule copie identique de cette édition recensée dans la bibliothèque de l’université de Gand). Cette édition imprimée en 1615 à Rouen par Jean du Bosc est en toute évidence la reproduction non-autorisée de l’édition publiée en 1608 par Jean Arnaud. Jean du Bosc a copié non-seulement le texte mais aussi toute la typographie de l’ouvrage d’Arnaud et même sa marque d’impression  (Arion sur un dauphin) en mettant toutefois son propre nom sur la page titre et faisant une omission prudente de la mention de privilège. Malgré des multiples petits travaux de vers, essentiellement marginaux et affectant seulement légèrement le texte, le livre est en bon état de conservation : il a préservé sa reliure de l’époque pleine basane marron avec le dos à cinq nerfs orné aux motifs floraux dorés.

photo 1Pourquoi le Code Henry IV avec des violettes demanderiez-vous ? Parce que ce livre a conservé des traces charmantes d’un de ses lecteurs sombrés dans l’oubli, quatre violettes pressées et séchées entre ses pages, marquant peut-être la section que ce lecteur anonyme a contemplée plus longtemps et plus pensivement que les autres parce que selon Ophélie, « des pensées, [sont] en guise de pensées ».

Journals of the Senate and of the House of Commons added to the Canadian Parliamentary Historical Resources

As we wrote previously, in 2013, the Library of Parliament, in collaboration with, launched its digital portal. In addition to the free public access to digital versions of the historical debates of the Parliament of Canada in both official languages for both the Senate and the House of Commons from Parliament 1, Session 1, 1867, the portal gives now access to Journals of the Senate and of the House of Commons, the official records of decisions and parliamentary business.


New Exhibit: Annie MacDonald Langstaff

annie_langstaffAnnie Langstaff, née MacDonald, a legal author, feminist, and aviatrix, was the first woman graduate in law in Québec (first-class honours, 1914), who became known because of her litigation against the Québec Bar, where she was denied access to its qualifying exams. To honour her memory the Law Library opens an exhibition featuring a selection of archival materials, including her original diploma, photographs, and grades’ transcripts.


She was born in 1887 in Alexandria, Glengarry County, Ontario. She came to Montreal, after receiving her Senior Matriculation from the Prescott (Ontario) High School, and worked as a stenographer for Samuel W. Jacobs, K.C., head of the firm Jacobs, Hall, Couture and Fitch, a well-respected lawyer and advocate of Jewish Rights.

IMG_3262 IMG_3261In October 1911, with the encouragement of Mr. Jacobs, she entered the McGill Faculty of Law. She received her B.C.L. in May 1915, graduating with First Class Honours and a prize of $25.00. She ranked fourth in her class of eighteen and led her second year class in Company Law and her third year class in Criminal Law. After Convocation she applied to take the Quebec preliminary Bar examination. This examination was normally taken, by those wishing to study law, three years before presenting themselves for admission to practice and as a preliminary to the university program in law. Mrs. Langstaff, anticipating difficulty in being admitted, chose to complete her law program first, and then to apply for the preliminary examination.

Her application was refused by the Bar and, with Mr. Jacobs as her counsellor, she petitioned the Superior Court for a writ of mandamus summoning the Quebec Bar to show cause why it should not be ordered to grant the application since Mrs. Langstaff met all the statutory qualifications for sitting the examination. At the hearing, Mrs. Langstaff assisted in the presentation of her case. Her petition was dismissed with costs by Mr. Justice Saint-Pierre. (Dame Langstaff v. The Bar of the Province of Quebec (1915) 47 C.S. 131.).

Mr. Justice Saint-Pierre noted that Mrs. Langstaff was “a young woman of good morals and possessed of considerable ability” (p. 145), but his Lordship held that “to admit a woman and more particularly a married woman as a barrister as a person who pleads cases at the bar before judges or juries in open court and in the presence of the public, would be nothing short of a direct infringement upon public order and a manifest violation the law of good morals and public decency” (p. 39). The opinion of Mr. Justice Saint-Pierre caused a public outcry. It was the subject of a number of newspaper headlines and articles. Mrs. Langstaff’s supporters, led by Professor Carrie Derick of McGill, and the members of the Local Council of Women, organized a mass protest against his remarks and decision.

Mrs. Langstaff, still represented by Mr. Jacobs, appealed to the Court of King’s Bench. A hearing was held on 16 September 1915 and arguments were closely covered in the local press. On 2nd November, the Court in a four to one decision (Mr. Justice Lavergne dissenting), affirmed Mr. Justice Saint-Pierre’s decision (Dame Langstaff (Annie Macdonald) v. The Bar of the Province of Quebec (1916) 25 B.R. 11.). Although that was the end of her personal legal battle, she continued to fight by supporting various bills introduced to change Quebec law so as to allow women to practise law. IMG_3265But she was never allowed to write the examination and by the time the law was finally changed, in 1942, a Bachelor of Arts degree had become a prerequisite. Mrs. Langstaff was not prepared at the time in her life to return to formal university studies. Mrs. Langstaff continued her work for the law firm (which she described as “a little secretarial work, a little bookkeeping, and a little law”, McGill Reporter, 11 February 1976).

She was the first woman stenographer employed in a Montreal Criminal Court (Court of Special Sessions, June 1914). She became a successful aviatrix and, on the occasion of Marshall Foch’s visit to Montreal, circled above the city for an hour to the delight of thousands of spectators. She was the author of several articles on family law published in popular women’s journals and of an English-French French-English Quebec Legal Dictionary (1937). She retired from the firm, now known as Phillips and Vineberg, in 1965 at the age of 78. She died on 29 June 1975 at the age of 88.

On September 7, 2006 The Montréal Bar bestowed on Mrs. Annie MacDonald Langstaff a posthumous honour by giving her the Medaille du Barreau de Montréal in recognition of her accomplishments.

Information and text for this blog post were derived from the memorial plaque exhibited in the Annie Langstaff room at the Faculty of Law, McGill University.

Historical Supreme Court of Canada Judgments Now Available Online

The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) has made all decisions published in the Supreme Court Reports dating back to 1876 available on the SCC Judgments website.  All of these newly-added SCC decisions can also be found in the CanLII database. Please visit the official SCC Judgments website to access the judgments.

Access to Nahum Gelber Law Library during exam period / Accès à la Bibliothèque de droit Nahum Gelber pendant la période des examens

From Tuesday, April 7 to Wednesday, April 29, 2015, the main floor and second floor of the Nahum Gelber Law Library will be open for study to all McGill students during opening hours. During this period, only McGill Law students will be able to access the third, fourth and fifth floors using their ID cards on the card readers installed in both elevators and in access points.

This limited-access policy to the Nahum Gelber Law Library is being implemented a few days before and throughout the exam period and is designed to accommodate Law students who will be preparing final papers and completing take-home exams in the building. In order to prepare for these exams, Law students require non-circulating materials that are only available in the Nahum Gelber Law Library and so require extensive access to the stacks on the third, fourth and fifth floors…

Read the rest of the announcement here.

Collection Wainwright, nouvelles acquisitions: Coustumes generales du duchè d’Aouste

Grace à la générosité du Wainwright Trust,  nous avons ajouté à la Collections Wainwright un nouvel ouvrage  très rare avec seulement quatre autres exemplaires recensés dans les bibliothèques : Coustumes generales du duchè d’Aouste : proposees & redigees par escript en l’assemblee des trois estatz gens d’eglise, nobles, practiciens, & coustumiers : auec les vz & stilz audit pays obserués / le tout reueu & corrigé, & despuis confirmé & approuué par son altesse ; auec deux tables l’vne des tiltres & l’autre des principales matieres par ordre alphabetique.  Publié à Chambery par Loys Pomar en 1588, le livre a conservé sa reliure d’origine en vélin dur avec le dos à 3 nerfs orné de fleurons dorés. Il est la première édition du coutumier du Val d’Aoste.

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Contexte historique : Les réformes du duc Emmanuel-Philibert vont dans le sens de centraliser le pouvoir dans la personne du souverain et de supprimer le pluralisme juridique typique du Moyen Age. Prenant toutefois acte du loyalisme qu’ont démontré les Valdôtains pendant l’occupation française de la Savoie et du Piémont, il confirme les franchises de La Vallée d’Aoste et ses institutions particulières, y compris le Conseil des Commis, créé le 7 mars 1536 par l’Assemblée des États pour gouverner le Pays. L‘Assemblée des États obtient du duc l’autorisation de compiler un Coutumier et de nommer à cet effet une commission de juristes présidée par le premier sénateur de Savoie Jean-Geoffroy Ginod, évêque de Belley. Commencés en 1573, les travaux de la commission s’achèvent en 1588, quand le due Charles-Emmanuel Ier promulgue enfin le recueil des Coustumes du duché d’Aouste, imprimé à Chambéry par Louis Pomar, formé de six livres et comprenant en tout 4262 articles. Summa de la science juridique valdôtaine, le Coutumier concerne tant le droit civil que pénal et règlemente les magistratures locales et les professions libérales. De nombreux juristes et praticiens collaborent à sa rédaction, dont François et Jean Humbert de Vallaise, François-René de Nus, Claude d’Avise, Antoine et Pantaléon Vaudan, Bonaventure-Philibert Bomyon, Vlincent Ottiné, Guillaunie Lyboz et Vincent Regis  (adapté de Joseph Rivolin).

pic_2015-03-11_074207 pic_2015-03-11_074226 pic_2015-03-11_074243

New Oxford Collections

As of this term, the Law Library provides the access to two newly purchased Oxford collections:

  • Oxford Handbooks for Law Online brings together the world’s leading scholars to write review essays that evaluate the current thinking on a field or topic, and make an original argument about the future direction of the debate. The Oxford Handbooks are one of the most successful and cited series within scholarly publishing, containing in-depth, high-level articles by scholars at the top of their field.
  •  Oxford Historical Treaties  (OHT) is the premier resource for historical treaty research and home to the full text of The Consolidated Treaty Series, the only comprehensive collection of treaties of all nations concluded from 1648 through 1919. Available via the Oxford Public International Law platform, OHT is cross-searchable with Oxford’s leading public international law resources and benefits from a modern, intuitive interface and sophisticated functionality

New Additions to our Digitised Collections: Law Exams from 1861-1896 and Mooters Scrapbook from 1915-1916

We all know that e-exams for the past years are not available for the faculty of law. Not to exactly fill this gap, but to at least provide you with an insight into how the exams looked like for the 19th century McGill law students, we have digitized a volume from our Rare Books Collection that gathers the examination questions for the years 1861-1896. You can find there for example, the questions for the sessional examinations on the Civil Code for the second and third year students that were held on Tuesday, March 5th, 1872.

exams 31

Another glimpse into the student life of the days bygone is allowed by the scrapbook made by law students preparing for moot completion in in 1915-1916. The book contains handwritten accounts of the meetings, clippings from contemporary newspapers, a typewritten case Brown vs. Jones assigned to the students and the moot court decision.

 moots 6

Both books are now available for viewing and downloading via WorldCat:


Reports of moot trials:

New Databases

As of this January, the Law Library provides the access to four newly purchased HeinOnline collections:

Canadian and Australian Acts of the Parliament & Revised Statutes of Canada (PDFs)

With HeinOnline’s Canadian Acts of the Parliament digital collection, you can now access all historical and current Acts of the Parliaments of Canada in online fully-searchable PDF format. The collection includes Acts of the Parliament of Canada (SC) 1792-2012 (annual statutes), as well as all the Revised Statutes of Canada (RSC), from the first revision in 1896 to the last in 1985. Our subscription also includes Acts of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1901-2012. We feel that the law journals’ editors will particularly welcome the acquisition of this collection.

 Israel Law Reports

This collection includes the complete run of the Israel Law Reports which provides access to more than 220 cases. Cumulative tables are provided for reference to other volumes in the collection, as well as to select cases for specified time periods. Also, a “Table of Cases Published in English Translation” lists in alphabetical order all cases that have been translated into English and appear in the Selected Judgments of the Supreme Court of Israel Series and in the present Israel Law Reports Series. The collection also includes access to the Israel Law Review, Volumes 1-42 (1966-2009).

Scottish Legal History: Featuring Publications of the Stair Society

This collection includes the Stair Society Main (Annual) Series consisting of 53 volumes (1936-present), vols. 1-3 of the Stair Society Supplementary Series, as well as books, abridgments and links to scholarly articles from HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library that discuss Scots law. Founded in 1934, the Stair Society serves to encourage the study and advance the knowledge of the history of Scots Law by the publication of original documents and by the reprinting and editing of works of sufficient rarity or importance. It is named after Scotland’s greatest jurist, James Dalrymple, 1st Viscount Stair, whose Institutions of the Law of Scotland, first published in 1681, were the foundation of modern Scots law. As part of its aim to further the study of Scots legal history, the Society produces printed and electronic publications, specifically an annual volume along with occasional other publications, which are now available via HeinOnline to the users of the Gelber Library.

History of International Law

This collections includes more than 1,100 titles and 800,000 pages dating back to 1690 on International Law subjects such as War & Peace, the Nuremberg Trials, Law of the Sea, International Arbitration, Hague Conferences and Conventions and inks to scholarly articles from HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library that discuss International Law.

You can access the new collections via the main HeinOnline page.