Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Back to Opinion

Judge Posner’s Delightfully Jewy Legal Ruling

An Orthodox Jew wears a reggae costume as he buys a bottle of wine on Purim / Getty Images

Last Thursday, prominent judge and University of Chicago professor Richard Posner offered his decision on Lubavitch-Chabad v. Northwestern University. The case was brought against the university after it disaffiliated itself with its former Chabad organization. The Chabad house had repeatedly served alcohol to underage students after being warned not to do so by the university. Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, the Chabad chapter’s head rabbi, sued Northwestern, claiming that it was discriminating against Chabad Jews.

Legal decisions are usually painfully dry, but Posner wrote an entertaining — and very Jewish — response to the case. He inserted links to Wikipedia pages and Youtube videos and gave some unexpected background on Judaism to inform the reader. For example, since the case involved underage drinking, Posner gave a possible explanation for Rabbi Klein’s motivation:

It’s true that according to some adherents of Chabad Lubavitch ‘it is a mitzvah [a divine command] to drink, and drink to excess, on Purim’ (and possibly on other holidays as well).

Another highlight of the opinion is Posner’s attempt to tackle a popular question: Is Judaism a religion, an ethnicity, or both?

Judaism of course is the name of a religion rather than of an ethnic group, but persons whose parents are Jewish are considered Jewish even if they (and their parents, for that matter) are entirely secular. (In the United States, Jews who convert to another religion generally are no longer considered Jewish.) Secular Jews form not a religious group (obviously), but an ethnic group, just as the Irish do even though many Irish people, like many ethnic Jews, are not religious.

Judge Bauer, another one of the presiding judges in the case, emphasized the originality — and sheer entertainment value — of Posner’s opinion. In his concurring opinion, Bauer wrote:

I cheerfully concur in this enlightening opinion. The background and the various nuances of the religious groups discussed, or alluded to, are not taken from the record of the case but are both enlightening and, I confess, entertaining.

Posner’s ruling, which ultimately sided with Northwestern, may not have made Chabad happy — but it sure delighted others.

Engage

  • SHARE YOUR FEEDBACK

  • UPCOMING EVENT

    SKY & SCULPTURE

    Hybrid: Online and at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

    Oct 2, 2022

    6:30 pm ET · 

    A Sukkah, IMKHA, created by artist Tobi Kahn, for the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan is an installation consisting of 13 interrelated sculpted painted wooden panels, constituting a single work of art. Join for a panel discussion with Rabbi Joanna Samuels, Chief Executive Director of the Marlene Meyerson JCC of Manhattan, Talya Zax, Innovation Editor of the Forward, and Tobi Kahn, Artist. Moderated by Mattie Kahn.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.