The great patriarch as a template for Jewish lawyers across the ages.
Famed Harvard attorney Dershowitz (Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law, 2013, etc.) presents Abraham, father of three religions, as the original Jewish lawyer. Describing him as “an idol smasher, a conniver, a rescuer, an advocate, a compliant fundamentalist, and a shrewd real estate investor, the author identifies a wide range of lawyerly traits, good and bad, in the portrait of the patriarch provided by Scripture and the Midrash. Dershowitz begins with an overview of what little we know of the life of Abraham, along the way pointing out legal touches in the story. For instance, he argued like a defense attorney for the lives of the people of Sodom, and in procuring a burial plot for his wife, he negotiated like a real estate attorney might. Dershowitz goes on to look at Jews as defendants. He examines a few specific examples, such as Alfred Dreyfus and Leo Frank, but his focus is much more global. He asserts that the very injustice suffered by the Jews over the course of centuries has honed their collective respect and aptitude for the law. “Jews have come to appreciate justice and the rule of law,” writes the author, “because we have experienced so much injustice and the rule of might over right.” Dershowitz profiles a number of great Jewish lawyers from the modern era as well. The author begins with a great concept, but the effort seems lacking. A comprehensive look at Abraham as a proto-lawyer, influencing future generations, would be a welcome and fascinating addition to the corpus of Jewish studies. Dershowitz only provides a cursory glance here, but the book, replete with Jewish jokes and Woody Allen quotes, is a homey start.
An interesting concept deserving of twice the effort.