Jews and the Law.

Author:Tractenberg, Paul L.
Position:Book review
 
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Jews and the Law. Edited by Ari Mermelstein, Victoria Saker Woeste, Ethan Zadoff, and Marc Galantee New Orleans, LA: Quid Pro Books, 2014. 385 pp.

Jews and the Law addresses an ambitious, multi-faceted topic and does so in a fascinating but sometimes sprawling manner. It includes an introduction and twelve essays, each written by a distinguished author. The essays were presented at, or inspired by, a 2006 conference on "Jews and the Legal Profession" hosted by Cardozo Law School. Four were previously published whole or in part.

As the introduction describes, "The book is organized in three overlapping categories: Jewish Lawyers in Life and Practice; Jews, Antisemitism, and Legal Development; and Legalism and the Jews" (5). The categories are neither airtight nor fully descriptive of the essays in each. A formidable challenge for readers of this book is seeking overarching or common themes.

One could present this anthology as a "fascinating collection of essays by distinguished scholars [that] illuminates the distinctive and intricate relationship between Jews and the law," as Professor Jerold Auerbach does on the book jacket. Alternatively, one could view it as an unusual assortment of essays linked mainly by the fact that they are about Jews and their relationship to secular law in the United States, Germany and Israel. Perhaps both are true. Either way, a brief review can hardly capture this complex and dense book. I have chosen to focus on a central question--what is the core tension that the book seeks to illuminate about "Jews and the Law"?

My first hint came in the middle of the introduction when it refers to the "'dual allegiance' of Jewish civic identity, meaning the tension that arises between secular citizenship and Jewish religious law" (4). Yet the introduction acknowledges that many Jewish lawyers beginning "in the immediate post-Civil War era cleaved to Reform Judaism," not Orthodoxy (3). Therefore, it is not clear how "Jewish religious law" created a tension for those non-Orthodox Jewish lawyers. It may be true, as the book's second chapter about New York's Emergency Rent Laws of 1920 points out, that non-observant Jewish lawyers sometimes used Jewish law, as well as Irish and other non-U.S. law, to buttress their secular legal arguments, but that hardly seemed to reflect a "dual allegiance" or even a "tension."

Although Jews have often been seen as "the other" by mainstream societies, and that may have contributed to a sense...

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