A Litigious People

A Litigious People

The dream of many a Jewish mother is to proudly proclaim “My Son, The Lawyer” (after “My Son, The Doctor”).  Why a profession that is so hated by the masses should receive such motherly esteem is a mystery. However, its usefulness is a matter of historical record.

One form or another of public advocacy has apparently existed since pre-history. For centuries, in both Ancient Greece and Rome there existed an illegal cadre of advocates who were paid under the table by clients to represent them. Finally, around the year 40 CE, Emperor Claudius legalized paid advocacy in the Roman Empire. Thus the formal attorney profession was born and became a fixture of judicial systems henceforth.

The Jewish judicial system did not adopt lawyers or advocates until much later in history; however this did not make the system any less active.

Moses complains about this in a worrying line in Deuteronomy (1:12):

“How can I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?”

Rabbi Ovadia Sforno clarifies that “quarrels” refers to lawsuits and monetary claims, and that Moses is rebuking the Jewish nation.

Moses had just informed the Children of Israel they were about to enter and conquer the land of Canaan. The upcoming campaign would be one of greater honor and reward than any of their minor and petty issues in the desert. Nonetheless, Sforno explains, this did not deter the Jews from fighting with each other. Litigiousness was so rampant, that a private judge was required for every ten Israelites.

Sforno continues by stating that the source of the litigation was none other than a mean-spirited motivation.

May any legal proceedings we undertake be for good purposes – and may God grant us success in these matters.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the attorneys I have the privilege of knowing and working with. They are an honor to their profession and belie the bad reputation many lawyers have (though that doesn’t stop us from teasing them…)

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