Love Over Law

In medieval England and France, there were courts of love. They legislated on questions regarding love, passed sentence on lovers who were in the wrong and generally tried to establish a system of jurisprudence to keep love disputes from the regular courts.

Charles the IV established his court on Valentine’s Day of 1400 by having a panel of women select the judges based on oral recitation or examples of poetry; others were composed of married women or widows themselves. One man who renounced his vows to a lady only to marry a woman of “higher station” had to pay his spurned lover for the transgression, though the court did not force him to marry.

While Jews did not have “courts of love,” per se, Judaism also adjudicated promises and romantic entanglements in court, and does to this day. No one can accurately judge feelings, but the courts could judge promises made.

Love overspills law. No legal netting, however fine, can capture the quicksilver nature of the human heart. We are told in the Talmud that “God wants the heart.” Not only does God want it directed toward heaven, but toward one another, with a sincerity and fullness that cannot be measured or judged but can surely be felt.

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.