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Pharisees

In response to:

Dishonorably Discharged from the October 27, 1983 issue

To the Editors:

Murray Kempton, whom I have long admired, criticizes me for not having referred to Judge Kaufman in my review of The Rosenberg File. Kempton speculates that my silence resulted from the fact that I have “to sign [my] name and raise [my] voice on appeals before…Judge Kaufman.” Anyone who has read my book The Best Defense will recognize that I do not shy away from criticizing judges before whom I have to appear. The reason I did not discuss Judge Kaufman is that The Rosenberg File, the book reviewed, contains nothing new about Judge Kaufman’s role in the Rosenberg case. This is so for an obvious reason: all the critical material about Judge Kaufman had previously been released by the Rosenberg supporters; the new material contained in The Rosenberg File consisted primarily of evidence supporting Julius Rosenberg’s guilt—evidence withheld by the Rosenberg supporters.

Alan M. Dershowitz

Harvard Law School

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Murray Kempton replies:

After some reflection, I have come to understand that Rabbi Shapiro’s protest is soundly based:

My first offense was to capitalize Pharisee. The lower-case adjective (“pharisiacal”) has an old history and I should hate to give it up; but to call someone a Pharisee is to stigmatize a whole class of people widely disparate in character. The Talmud is a great work; a Talmudic scholar is a great scholar, but I don’t think it improper to speak of “talmudic” when “pedantry” is the subject. The distinction between the capital letter and the lower case is very much a difference and I sinned in neglecting it.

My second trespass seems to me rather worse. I was writing about a judge who happens to be Jewish. To speak of his public posture as “pharisiacal” might not have been cause for offense; but to call someone of his identity a Pharisee certainly is, because it too much echoes the spiteful connotations of that appellation in the New Testament. To call a judge named Irving Kaufman a Pharisee is to suggest that his conduct is typical of the Pharisee and thus permit the inference that it is being judged as typical of the Jews. That inference is, of course, incorrect; but it would be no one’s fault except my own if it should arise.

I shall let Professor Dershowitz’s explanation stand except for observing how grateful I am that when Gibbon came to deal with the exploits of the Empress Theodosia he greedily availed himself of Procopius without inhibition by the knowledge that—like so many works of scandal—“The Secret History” had already been widely diffused.

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