Let's Discriminate Against All The Jewish Lawyers

A Noble American Profession Has an Ignoble Past

The Ruling Class: In the early part of the 20th century, hardly anyone within the upper reaches of the American legal establishment had a good word to say about lawyers from Jewish backgrounds.
Getty Images
The Ruling Class: In the early part of the 20th century, hardly anyone within the upper reaches of the American legal establishment had a good word to say about lawyers from Jewish backgrounds.

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

Published March 10, 2013, issue of March 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

No one, not even the mightiest of institutions, is immune to the changes wrought by globalization, digitalization and a weakened economy. Still, I was surprised to learn recently that law schools have been particularly hard hit — so much so that they have begun to rethink the very nature of legal education and its relationship to the commonweal.

The American law school has long been a stable conduit of upward mobility, especially for the sons and daughters of immigrants. But these days, a law degree, whose cost is prohibitive, is no longer a guarantee of financial security. As a result, the keepers of the American bar must figure out how to make a career in the law both possible and rewarding for future generations.

This is hardly the first time that those concerned with the future of the legal establishment have contemplated an overhaul of the curriculum. But it may well be the very first time that those who argue for change are eager to extend the franchise rather than delimit it. When, early in the 20th century, the nation’s legal gatekeepers trained their sights on the law school, they were motivated more by keeping out rather than welcoming in prospective applicants, a steadily growing number of whom happened to be Jewish.

Back then, hardly anyone within the upper reaches of the American legal establishment had a good word to say about lawyers from Jewish backgrounds: Their English, it seemed, wasn’t up to snuff, their grasp of America’s heritage was faulty and, worse still, they reportedly commercialized the law, rendering it a business rather than a form of stewardship. But don’t take it from me. Let’s read what some of America’s legal brahmins of the 20th century thought about those whose ambition apparently did not quite match up with their pedigree. Their perspective chills the soul, while also reminding us of how far we’ve come.

Consider, for example, the observations of Charles A. Boston, Chairman of the Standing Committee on Professional Ethics of the New York County Lawyers Association. Among the “forces making for the current deterioration of the bar,” he publicly declared in 1908, was the “ambitious and intellectual capacity of Oriental immigrants, with no apparent conception of English or Teutonic ideals.” He meant the Jews, of course, who were often labeled Oriental or Asiatic as opposed, say, to those whose feet appeared to be more firmly planted in Western or Occidental civilization.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.