U-M alum to use Fulbright to study religion and real estate

Sunday, July 30, 2017 - 12:31pm

J.R. Rothstein, a 2005 graduate from the University of Michigan, has received a Fulbright Award from the U.S. Department of State and will be a visiting scholar at the University of Toronto School of Law. Rothstein will be engaging in a comparative law analysis regarding the role of Jewish-Islamic law and secular law in the context of real estate.

Often, Rothstein said, members of the Orthodox Jewish and Muslim communities will choose to resolve disputes with religious leaders, rather than through the courts. During his stay at the University of Toronto, Rothstein will study these religious codes and how they manifest in real estate transactions — his existing area of expertise. Rothstein is a transactional real estate attorney in New York City.

"Doing this in the context of the real estate transaction allows me to stay relevant and build on my professional skill set, but at the same time do this comparative analysis," he said.

During his time at the University, Rothstein earned a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern studies and Jewish studies, and he often observed and took part in discussions between different religious communities on campus, particularly between students from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds. Though it was the focus of his degree, Rothstein said much of his learning occurred outside of the classroom.

“The very environment at Michigan lent itself to that kind of analysis,” he said. “It wasn’t something so fancy, it was just real-life people hanging out with each other.”

And though it is still a major topic of controversy on campus, Rothstein said the tone of the debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has improved since he was a student, when he said he saw fights break out over the issue.

Rothstein acknowledged the importance of intergroup dialog between religious communities and how crucial discussion of different ideas was in order to solve religious and societal disagreements. Even though he could disagree with "99 percent" of someone else's ideas, he said, it was important to still be able to be friends.

“It’s a very different conversation when you know the guy on the other side,” he said. “In a lot of contexts, similarity breeds warmth, in terms of people being open and getting to know each other.”

Judaic Studies Prof. Zvi Gitelman was one of Rothstein's mentors at the University. He said he was not surprised Rothstein had won a Fulbright award, and he praised Rothstein’s creativity.

"Intelligent, creative in his thinking, unusual, entrepreneurial — typical of J.R., he has reached beyond religion and beyond his own group," Gitelman said. "The project certainly is unusual and reflects in his creative thinking.”