With Lib­er­ty and Jus­tice: The Fifty Day Jour­ney from Egypt to Sinai

Sen­a­tor Joe Lieber­man and Rab­bi Ari D. Kahn
  • Review
By – June 26, 2018

Psalm 119, the longest chap­ter in the Bible, is a paean to obser­vance of the laws of God’s Torah. In it, the Psalmist offers 176 vers­es prais­ing the the val­ue and guid­ance of bib­li­cal law. It is in the spir­it of this psalm, par­tic­u­lar­ly verse six­ty-two — At mid­night I will raise to give thanks unto Thee because of Thy right­eous ordi­nances” — that retired sen­a­tor Joe Lieber­man offers read­ers his new book With Lib­er­ty and Jus­tice. The vol­ume, co-writ­ten with Rab­bi Ari Kahn of Bar Ilan Uni­ver­si­ty, con­sists of fifty brief essays reflect­ing on the val­ue of law in gen­er­al, and Jew­ish law in par­tic­u­lar. They are meant to be read sequen­tial­ly over the fifty days between the start of Passover and the hol­i­day of Shavuot, which marks God’s giv­ing of the Torah, a hol­i­day dur­ing which many Jews study Torah all night. Dur­ing this sev­en-week peri­od known as the count­ing of the Omer,” one reflects on the jour­ney under­tak­en by the ancient Israelites after their exo­dus from Egypt, which cul­mi­nat­ed in receiv­ing the Torah at Mount Sinai.

As Lieber­man notes, while the hol­i­day of Passover and its pri­ma­ry rit­u­al, the seder, is observed by many Jews who oth­er­wise con­sid­er them­selves unob­ser­vant, the hol­i­day of Shavuot is much less known among Jews and non-Jews alike. Mak­ing a case for the val­ue of bib­li­cal law — the inex­tri­ca­ble oth­er half” of the Exo­dus from Egypt — Lieber­man guides his read­ers (explic­it­ly intend­ed to be both Jews and non-Jews) toward an under­stand­ing of the Jew­ish hol­i­day that marks the dawn of justice.”

In acces­si­ble mini-chap­ters, Lieber­man recalls scenes from his youth, includ­ing his days as a Yale Law School stu­dent and speak­ing at a ral­ly before Mar­tin Luther King Jr. He also dis­cuss­es more recent events, such as pub­lish­ing a book about the Sab­bath which inspired the Mor­mon pres­i­dent of Brigham Young Uni­ver­si­ty to more devot­ed­ly observe his own day of rest. Lieber­man addi­tion­al­ly reflects on a range of law-cen­tered top­ics, includ­ing the afore­men­tioned Passover seder, Earth Day, the Ten Com­mand­ments, the legal pro­fes­sion, the Book of Ruth, Bill Clin­ton’s impeach­ment, and a 1924 speech Rab­bi Abra­ham Isaac Kook gave in Philadel­phi­a’s Inde­pen­dence Hall on the val­ue of lib­er­ty. Read­ers of all ages and back­grounds have much to gain from Lieber­man, whose feal­ty to law, both Amer­i­can and bib­li­cal, con­tin­ues to inspire peo­ple of faith the world over.

Dr. Stu Halpern is Senior Advi­sor to the Provost of Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty. He has edit­ed or coedit­ed 17 books, includ­ing Torah and West­ern Thought: Intel­lec­tu­al Por­traits of Ortho­doxy and Moder­ni­ty and Books of the Peo­ple: Revis­it­ing Clas­sic Works of Jew­ish Thought, and has lec­tured in syn­a­gogues, Hil­lels and adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion­al set­tings across the U.S.

Discussion Questions