“Abraham, the world’s first Jew, was also the world’s first lawyer, arguing with God on behalf of the doomed sinners of Sodom,” writes attorney Alan Dershowitz in his latest book, “Abraham: The World’s First (But Certainly Not Last) Jewish Lawyer.” Others followed, Dershowitz contends, “but Abraham was the first, and this book is about him and his progeny: the numerous Jewish lawyers who—for better or worse, but in my view mostly better—have changed the world by challenging the status quo, defending the unpopular, contributing to the rule of law, and following the biblical command to pursue justice.”
Indeed, there was a long list of biblical Jewish lawyers, according to Dershowitz: “Joseph soon followed, serving as a counsel to the powerful, as many Jewish lawyers have done since. Then came Moses, who was not only a lawgiver but also an advocate on behalf of Jews who had rejected him, his laws, and his God. Daniel, who in the Apocrypha serves as a defense lawyer to Susanna, perfected a technique of cross-examination that is still effectively used today. And Deborah the judge dispensed justice under a palm tree.”
Last November, a crowd of 1,500 ticket-holders from all over the greater New York City metropolitan area lined up down the street and around the corner outside Temple Emanu-El synagogue on the Upper East Side, starting at 8 AM, to watch Alan Dershowitz and Eliot Spitzer, who argued The People Vs. Abraham before United States District Judge, the honorable Alison Nathan. Needless to say, the Harvard maverick whose clients included O.J. Simpson, Michael Milken and Claus von Bulow, won the case, successfully arguing that the biblical Abraham was not guilty of the attempted murder of his son, Isaac. “It got Abraham off,” Dershowitz told The Wall Street Journal.
His new book, coming out on Oct. 6, is a survey of the history of Jewish lawyers. He started with Abraham, because Abraham started his career arguing with God, according to Dershowitz. “What could be more appropriate for a criminal lawyer?” he said, noting: “I argue with federal judges all the time who think they’re God.” Dershowitz profiles both well-known and unheralded Jewish lawyers, admired and excoriated, victorious and defeated—and of course offers glimpses into his own practice. Louis Brandeis, Theodor Herzl, Judah Benjamin, Max Hirschberg, Rene Cassin, Bruno Kreisky, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Elena Kagan—”idol-smashers, advocates, collaborators, rescuers, and deal-makers” who helped change history.
Finally, Woody Allen once asked Dershowitz which historic figure he would have liked to defend, to which he answered: Jesus. “He would be the perfect defendant for me because he was exercising his free speech, preaching religion and expressing his own views,” Dershowitz explained to the WSJ, noting: “Think of how much better the world could be if no one could blame the Jews!”