1/01/2010

Louis Brandeis

I got Melvin Urofsky's Louis Brandeis for my birthday and am just now getting to it. I'm only a few pages in (it's really long), but a few interesting things have already come up:
  • I have been introduced to Brandeis's fascinating uncle, Lewis Dembitz, though not nearly to the extent that I would have liked.
  • I have learned that Brandeis's family, who immigrated to the US from Bohemia (Prague) in the mid-19th century, were known to be Frankists (though by that time they were largely assimilationist) and therefore somewhat ostracized by the mainstream Jewish community.
  • Brandeis entered Harvard Law School at around the time that Christopher Columbus Langdell became its dean and began to reform the curriculum in significant ways, taking a more "scientific" (i.e., conceptual) approach to law instead of simple rote memorization. Langdells name and reforms rang a bell, and I soon realized that they were treated in Chaim Saiman's article "Legal Theology: The Turn to Conceptualism in Nineteenth Century Jewish Law" (email me for a copy). Saiman compares these reforms with the roughly contemporary "Brisker" revolution in learning. Obviously, the book does not compare Langdell with Reb Chaim Soloveitchik, but those few pages corroborate what Saiman tries to do; I can almost see Brandeis saying "a contract used to be just an agreement on a piece of paper until Langdell came along and turned it into a contract."
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