Melrose B'nai Israel Emanu-El

The Little Shul with the Big Heart

8339 Old York Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027
Phone: 215-635-1505 | Email:

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Lewis Lisman Distinguished Speaker Event – 2018

The first Lewis Lisman Distinguished Speaker Series program was held on the evening of Saturday, May 5, 2018 at MBIEE and featured:

Dr. Paul Finkelman
President of Gratz College.

His topic was “Is the Supreme Court a Friend of the Jews?”

Dr. Finkleman addressed a full house in the MBIEE sanctuary. He reviewed the Jewish members of the US Supreme Court beginning with Louis Brandeis and continuing to the present Court, which includes three Jews. He made the provocative argument that not all Jewish justices have been sympathetic to Jewish causes, citing the late Justice Felix Frankfurter as having supported or written decisions unsympathetic to the problems of religious and racial minorities. He reviewed decisions handed down by the Court since the early 19th century that directly or indirectly impacted the small, but growing population of Jewish Americans. These included the still controversial case of 1892 (Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States ) for which Justice David Brewer wrote the majority opinion. Dr. Finkleman explained that Justice Brewer’s decision included the comment that “this is a Christian nation.”

The lecture was followed by dinner and a dessert buffet, during which there was a stimulating question-and-answer session with Dr. Finkelman, who is now an honorary member of our congregation. As expected, our attendees challenged the speaker with questions, resulting in a brisk and informative discussion. By every measure, the evening fulfilled all expectations.

Dr. Finkelman is a renowned scholar with decades of academic and legal experience. He has published numerous books and articles in a wide variety of areas including American Jewish history, religious liberty and separation of church and state, American legal history, constitutional law, slavery and race, and legal issues surrounding baseball.

A native of Watertown, N.Y., Dr. Finkelman received his B.A. in American Studies from Syracuse University in 1971 and his Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago in 1976. He was later a fellow in law and humanities at Harvard Law School. He has held a number of endowed chairs as a tenured professor or as a visitor, including the Ariel F. Sallows Chair in Human Rights Law at the University of Saskatchewan, the John Hope Franklin Chair in American Legal History at Duke Law School, and the Chapman Chair at the University of Tulsa Law School. In 2014, he took emeritus status at Albany Law School, where he was the President William McKinley Distinguished Professor. Prior to coming to Gratz, Dr. Finkelman held the Fulbright Chair in Human Rights and Social Justice at the University of Ottawa School of Law in Ottawa, Canada. In 2017, he was also the John E. Murray Visiting Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Dr. Finkelman is the author of more than 200 scholarly articles and the author or editor of more than 50 books.

Dr. Finkelman’s work has been cited in four decisions by the United States Supreme Court, numerous other courts, and in many appellate briefs. He has lectured on slavery, human trafficking, and human rights issues at the United Nations, throughout the United States, and in more than a dozen other countries, including China, Germany, Israel, and Japan. In 2014, he was ranked as the fifth most cited legal historian in American legal scholarship in Brian Leiter’s “Top Ten Law Faculty Scholarly Impact, 2009-2013.” He was an expert witness in the famous Alabama Ten Commandments Monument Case (Glassroth v. Moore) and in the lawsuit over the ownership of Barry Bonds’ 73rd home run ball (Popov v. Hayashi).

Dr. Paul Finkelman’s most recent book, Supreme Injustice: Slavery in the Nation’s Highest Court, published by Harvard University Press, covers the personal and professional lives of three Supreme Court justices who upheld the institution of slavery. “I am a scholar of constitutional law and of slavery, and I’ve spent my whole life studying both subjects,” Finkelman said. “But my scholarship also ties in to the American Jewish experience. It’s all about how people at the bottom of the heap get treated and how America implements its claims of fundamental justice.  I have written a number of articles on American Jewish history and the connection between Jews and American law.”

The Lewis Lisman Endowment perpetuates the memory of Mr. Lisman by the generous contribution of his wife, Jean Lisman. The Endowment provides formal support for MBIEE’s Scholar-in-Residence program and establishes a fund to which congregants may direct their contributions.

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