'Jewish Justices'

Author to appear March 18 to discuss high court book

By Linda Laderman
Legal News

Noted author and historian Rabbi David Dalin will be in West Bloomfield March 18 at the Jewish Community Center to discuss the history of Jews in the legal profession and his most recent book, “Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court.”

Dalin’s talk is scheduled for 7 p.m., and is co-sponsored by the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan (JBAM.)

Jonathan Schwartz, a partner at Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss, and the president of JBAM, called Dalin, “The leading authority on the diverse lives and legacies of eight Jewish United States Supreme Court justices whose decisions have and continue to impact millions every day.”

Beginning with Louis Brandeis, the first of eight Jewish Supreme Court justices, Dalin’s book traces the influence Judaism has had on the eight Jewish justices’ lives and jurisprudence.  They are, in chronological order: Louis Brandeis, Benjamin Cardozo, Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg, Abe Fortas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan.

Dalin writes, “Before President Woodrow Wilson appointed Louis D. Brandeis as the first Jewish Supreme Court justice, other U.S. presidents had been laying the groundwork by naming Jews to other positions.”

Appointed to the Supreme Court in 1916, Brandeis, was born in Louisville, the son of Eastern European immigrants, who never denied their Jewish heritage, but did not belong to a synagogue or observe Jewish holidays.

“The fact that Brandeis is the first Jewish justice is somewhat ironic. Although he revered his uncle, who was a very prominent attorney and an Orthodox Jew, his Jewishness did affect his time on the Supreme Court. He really wasn’t learned, Jewishly,” Dalin said in a phone interview.

Notwithstanding Brandeis’ distance from religiosity, he embraced the social justice aspects of Judaism, becoming well known in Jewish circles as a leader in the Zionist movement and in 1917, helped to convince Woodrow Wilson to move the Balfour Declaration forward, Dalin noted.

“Brandeis became a very prominent Zionist leader, and helped persuade Wilson to support the Balfour Declaration. But interestingly, he didn’t observe the Jewish holidays. Instead, he celebrated Christmas, yet during his tenure he was one of the best known Jews in the United States, along with Albert Einstein, George Gershwin and the Detroit baseball player, Hank Greenberg,” Dalin said.

With an abundance of antidotes about the personal and political lives about the Jewish justices, Dalin talked about the irony of Felix Frankfurter’s approach to Judaism. The third Jewish justice, Frankfurter eschewed any religious leanings during his life. Still, before his impending death he requested that an ancient Jewish ritual, the Mourners Kaddish, be recited at his funeral.

“It was one of the great ironies. Frankfurter didn’t want a Rabbi officiating at his funeral but he wanted the Kaddish recited, by one of his law clerks who was an Orthodox Jew,” Dalin said. “Shortly before his death he confessed to a friend, ‘I came into this world as a Jew, and although I did not live my life entirely as a Jew, I think it’s fitting that I should leave this life as a Jew.’”

Among the eight Jewish Supreme Court justices, Dalin said he found Elena Kagan to be among the most well versed in Jewish history.

“Except for (Benjamin) Cardozo, Kagan is probably the most religiously knowledgeable of all the Jewish justices, and she is the only Jewish justice to quote any kind of Jewish historical sources in one of her opinions,” Dalin said.

A non-lawyer, Dalin said writing “Jewish Justices” brought him back to the days when he considered getting a law degree.

“To be honest after writing this book I wished I had gone to law school. At one point, when I started at the Jewish Theological Seminary, I applied to and was accepted at Cardozo Law School,” Dalin said. “My father was a rabbi who had a law degree, but never practiced and my son is an attorney. So in many ways becoming a lawyer was a natural choice if you decided not to become a rabbi.”

Dalin’s talk is free and open to the public.

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