Authors: Alan M. Dershowitz
“Lawyer, teacher, essayist, novelist—and now biblical scholar? Whatever Alan Dershowitz writes is worth reading. His new volume
of commentaries and interpretations is a case in point. As with all his books, this one is stimulating and enriching.”
—Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize Winner
“A thoroughly engrossing and provocative presentation … the best interactive moral teaching tool ever devised…. [Dershowitz]’s
perspective is fresh, and the reader will be entertained and stimulated. THE GENESIS OF JUSTICE never fails to engender reflection.”
Southeastern Virginia Jewish News
“THE GENESIS OF JUSTICE is a book that, like the text it analyzes, needs to be studied, not merely read. It is a good primer
for those unfamiliar with the Judaic tradition of biblical interpretation and is valuable for anyone who has an interest in
the foundations and processes of our legal system.”
“Dershowitz’s undeniably thorough and penetrating legal analysis yields fascinating passages… . It’s fun to see Dershowitz’s
skill at building many-leveled trial arguments from the few available facts.”
“An important contribution.”
“A fascinating book … stimulating and engaging.”
Salt Lake City Deseret News
“Alan M. Dershowitz breathes life and disputation into that most lively and disputatious biblical text, the Book of Genesis.
THE GENESIS OF JUSTICE is a feisty, freewheeling investigation into the tangled roots of our moral imagination.”
—Henry Louis Gates, director, The W. E. B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research, Harvard University
“This book is heresy at its best! Alan Dershowitz perfectly describes the view of an imperfect God in search of justice. While
religious fundamentalists will strongly disagree with the author’s interpretations of the biblical text, they will appreciate
his observation that social justice is rooted in biblical truth and modern law is based on the Ten Commandments.”
—Jerry Falwell, chancellor, Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA
“Alan Dershowitz, a lawyer and lifelong student of the Bible, engagingly explains to the lay reader just how the moral morass
traversed in the first book of the Bible was a necessary step in laying the groundwork for our highest ideals of what is right
and wrong. The book suggests a whole new bridge between religion and law.”
—Harvey Cox, Thomas Professor of Divinity, Harvard University, author of
The Secular City
Fire from Heaven
“A wonderful book! A great read! … Alan Dershowitz has now come up with a fascinating, thoughtful, irreverent, funny, insightful,
legal/moral commentary on the book of Genesis. This is a challenging reflection on the interaction of law, ethics, and religion.”
— Rabbi Irving Greenberg
“Alan Dershowitz displays all his formidable skills…. Deftly and entertainingly, he tells us how the elusiveness of divine
justice in the earliest biblical narratives helped inspire later positive law that is more accessible, predictable, and apparently
equitable. It should be read by all who are interested in religion, justice, or both.”
“These reflections on biblical stories will provide entertainment and intellectual stimulation for readers of all faiths….
Alan Dershowitz reveals himself as a master of midrash.”
—MaryAnn Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law,
Psychoanalysis, Psychiatry, and Law
(with Jay Katz and Joseph Goldstein)
Criminal Law: Theory and Practice
(with Joseph Goldstein and Richard D. Schwartz)
The Best Defense
Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bülow Case
Taking Liberties: A Decade of Hard Cases, Bad Laws, and Bum Raps
Contrary to Popular Opinion
The Advocate’s Devil
The Abuse Excuse: And Other Cop-Outs, Sob
Stories, and Evasions of Responsibility
The Vanishing American Jew: In Search of Jewish
Identity for the Next Century
Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr,
and the Emerging Constitutional Crisis
Copyright © 2000 by Alan M. Dershowitz.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including
information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may
quote brief passages in a review.
Hachette Book Group,
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New York, NY 10017.
Visit our website at
First eBook Edition: October 2009
I lovingly dedicate this book to my mother, Claire Dershowitz, and to my late father, Harry Dershowitz, who provided me with
my background in the Bible and with the freedom to raise questions. They were the genesis of my interest in both the Bible
Genealogy of the Major Biblical Characters Discussed in
The Genesis of Justice
Table of Contents
his book was begat by a long line of patriarchs, matriarchs, friends, and relatives. First and foremost are my parents and
grandparents who imbued me with a love of the Bible and Jewish learning. My teachers, whom we too often treated with disrespect,
provided me with the basic tools for understanding the Bible. I apologize to them for taunting them and misbehaving in their
classes. I know they will be surprised that I learned anything, but believe it or not, I really did. My Yeshiva friends, many
of whom are still my friends, were and remain an important part of my education. The students in my Bible seminar at Harvard
Law School helped me test my theories and hone my interpretative skills. My friends on Martha’s Vineyard, who joined my wife
and me for the weekly Bible class, contributed brilliant insights. My friends, colleagues, and relatives in Israel, who shared
their perspectives with me, helped to broaden my approach. Special appreciation to my friends and colleagues who reviewed
the manuscript and pointed out its numerous mistakes.
I owe an enormous debt to the countless biblical commentators who, over the millennia, have elaborated, explained, challenged,
translated, and kept alive the words of the Bible. Everyone who reads the Bible today stands on the shoulders of giants.
A special word of appreciation to the Morton Foundation and to Morton and Rosalind Davis, for helping to defray the expenses
of my research trip to Israel, and to the Gruss Foundation, for providing research support at Harvard.
My usual thanks to my wife, Carolyn, my mother, Claire, my in-laws, Dutch and Mortie, my children Elon, Jamin, and Ella, my
daughter-in-law, Barbara, my grandchildren, Lori and Lyle, my brother, Nathan, my sister-in-law, Marilyn, my nephew, Adam,
my niece, Rana, my brother-in-law, Marvin, my sister-in-law, Julie, and my nephews, Isaac and Jonah—all of whom contributed
in different ways. My thanks as well to my friends, Murray and Malkie Altman, Bernie and Judy Beck, Zolly and Katie Eisenstadt,
Carl and Joan Meshenberg, Hal and Sandy Miller-Jacobs, Josh and Rochelle Weisberger, Barry and Barbara Zimmerman, Tsvi Groner,
Martin Levine, Alan Rothfeld, Ken and Gerry Sweder, Israel Ringel, Michael and Jackie Halbreich, Alex MacDonald, Maureen Straford,
Naomi Foner, Jeffrey Epstein, Maureen White, Jerry Davidson, Joanne and Tom Ash, and Lisa Foster.
Among my friends and colleagues who reviewed the manuscript, I wish to single out Madeline Kochen who educated me, corrected
me, and provided unique insights into the interpretative processes of Jewish law, about which she is truly a master.
It is especially gratifying for me to work with students. Among those who helped me on this project have been Aharon Friedman,
Talia Milgrom-Elcott, and Meron Hacohen.
Thanks also to Jessica Papin for her extraordinary editorial assistance, to Helen Rees for her guidance and support, and to
Larry Kirshbaum for his enthusiasm about this project. This book could not have been produced without the help of Maura Kelley,
John Orsini, Audrey Lee, and Manny Lim. Thanks also to the librarians at Harvard Law School and at the Harvard Divinity School
for their assistance.
A note of appreciation to Everett Fox for permitting me to use his extraordinary translation of Genesis, which is as true
to the ancient rhythms of the Torah as it is to the contemporary eye.
The responsibility for my misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and other mistakes is entirely my own. I am sure that if
I had paid more attention in Hebrew school, I would not have made them.
ould you give a young person a book whose heroes cheat, lie, steal, murder—and get away with it? Chances are you have. The
book, of course, is Genesis. And you are right to encourage your child to read it—with some guidance. It is the best interactive
moral teaching tool ever devised: Genesis forces readers of all ages to struggle with eternal issues of right and wrong.