Saturday, May 27, 2006

Remembering the First Five Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court

Lives — and Legacies — in Law

Remembering the First Five Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court


There is an age-old connection between Judaism and law. For centuries, rabbis and other Jewish scholars studied, re-studied and ceaselessly interpreted the Talmud, producing a vast corpus of juridical writing, which to many was the very heart of the Jewish religious tradition. Jews have always prized the scholarship of judges and lawyers in their own tradition. When antisemitic occupational restrictions lessened, they were drawn to the learned professions of the countries in which they lived, including the United States. Law figured prominently among those professions. Law became and remains an avenue of social mobility, a field in which intellectual achievement is rewarded. And, as it evolved in the United States, law also became a bulwark against the kind of oppression Jews historically have encountered and endured. Thus, Jews in large numbers became lawyers in the United States, and some eventually became judges. The best of those lawyers and judges used the law not only for personal gain, but to secure justice for others. So it was with my predecessors, the first five Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court. To celebrate the 350th anniversary of Jews in America, I will recall in quick snapshots their lives in the law, and the legacies they left.
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