Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz is best known for his legal prowess, but he is also the author of two dozen nonfiction works and three novels, the latest of which is The Trials of Zion.
Set in Israel, the book’s plot tells the story of three lawyers who defend an alleged Arab terrorist while simultaneously trying to discover who set off a bomb that killed the American president and Israeli and Palestinian leaders at a peace-signing ceremony in Jerusalem.
Dershowitz recently spoke to Elliot Resnick of The Jewish Press about his new book, the Sholom Rubashkin trial, and President Obama’s policy toward Israel.
Intermarriage is generally thought of as one of the worst sins a Jew can commit. And yet, in your novel, you portray positively a romance between a young Arab man and a young Jewish woman. Why?
I don’t think I portray it in a positive light. I think I portray it realistically. I portray it the way I see it among my students. I’m trying to be descriptive, not prescriptive. I’m not suggesting it’s a good thing. I don’t support it.
But I see it all around me. The other night I spoke at a Chabad Shabbat dinner at Harvard, and a lot of the students came with non-Jewish girlfriends and spouses. Many of them will eventually convert to Judaism but we’re going through a very challenging period now with intermarriage. I can’t ignore that in my writing.
In the book, you seem to imply that followers of religious leaders such as the Lubavitcher Rebbe are somehow irrational or not using their critical faculties. Is that what you believe?
No, I certainly don’t believe that. I’m the faculty adviser at Chabad at Harvard and I’m a tremendous admirer of Chabad. They do phenomenal work. I don’t believe that at all. You can’t put in my mouth everything that every character spouts.
The point I made about Lubavitch is that a lot of these actors in Hollywood immediately jump on the Lubavitch bandwagon without understanding a thing about Judaism or Lubavitch. I was thinking of a particular person I know in Hollywood, a fairly well known actor, who has just given up his critical faculties…. Tomorrow he’ll be abandoning that and going to some ashram in India. It’s not real for some people. That’s my point.
You have been critical of the 27-year sentence Sholom Rubashkin recently received. Do you see him as a victim of anti-Semitism or as someone who simply was unlucky to have a stern judge presiding over his trial?
I don’t know enough about the case to know whether he’s completely innocent, but I can tell you this: The sentence was utterly disproportionate. You cannot explain that sentence based on the facts of the case. I don’t care how harsh a judge she is. She’s never sentenced anybody like this for a comparable crime.
So I don’t know whether it was anti-Semitism or anti-Easternism or anti-New Yorkism or anti-outsiderism, but it was anti-something. And it can’t be explained on principles of justice. The sentence was way, way out of proportion to anything that was proved in the case.
Many Jews who become successful try to downplay or hide their Jewishness. You don’t. The fact that you named one of your books Chutzpah amply demonstrates this point. What makes you different?
I’m very proud to be a Jew. I want everybody to know I’m Jewish, and I want to be assertively Jewish. When I came to Harvard, people told me I was too Jewish for Harvard and that I’d never get tenure. I said, “That’s fine. If they don’t want to give a Jewish Jew tenure, that wouldn’t be a good place for me to be.”
I’m not going to hide my Jewishness in any way, and am always contemptuous of people who change their names and change their noses. I don’t think that’s happening as much today, but it certainly happened in my day.
I’m proudly and assertively Jewish and I’ll always be that way. For me it’s very important. I tell Jewish jokes in my classes, I quote Rambam as often as I quote Blackstone, I wrote a book about the book of Bereishit. I’m very proud of my Jewish heritage, education and knowledge. I never hide it at all.
That’s what happens when you grow up in Boro Park. We lived on 48th Street between 15th and 16th Avenues, and I grew up with the Klass family [founders of The Jewish Press]. Mrs. [Irene] Klass was a friend of my mother’s.