How Felix Frankfurter Traded Judaism for Democracy

Elena Kagan is the eighth Jew to be appointed to the Supreme Court. The third Jew to sit on the nation’s highest court—preceded by Louis Brandeis and Benjamin Cardozo—was Felix Frankfurter. Born in Vienna in 1882 and the descendent of numerous rabbis, Frankfurter became a leading advocate of judicial restraint. Andrew Porwancher and Taylor Jipp examine his life:

Despite his upbringing in an observant Jewish household, he withdrew from religious practices in a singular moment of clarity. Frankfurter was attending a Yom Kippur service as an undergraduate when he abruptly sensed his indifference to its rituals. “I looked around as pious Jews were beating their breasts with intensity of feeling and anguishing sincerity”—he was referring here to the Jewish practice of tapping one’s chest in repentance—“and I remember with the greatest vividness thinking that it was unfair of me, a kind of desecration for me to be in the room with these people, . . . adhering to a creed that meant something to my parents but ceased to have meaning for me.”

Frankfurter suddenly exited the synagogue and never again resurfaced at a Jewish service. For the remainder of his life, he still identified as a Jew—and understandably so, as Jewish identity entails more than theological commitments—but his relationship with Judaism as a faith had met a swift demise. Frankfurter came instead to embrace a new religion: American democracy.

He became an apostle of the “true democratic faith” and routinely described the American legal system in decidedly religious terms. “Society has breathed into law the breath of life and made it a living, serving soul,” Frankfurter wrote in language mirroring the book of Genesis’s description of how God animated Adam with breath.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish History, Supreme Court

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy