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December 2, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

The trials of New York's religious judges

By Eytan Kobre


Credit: Mishpacha magazine




A growing, albeit unheralded cadre of Orthodox Jewish judges in New York's court system -- some of them top-ranking -- might have diverse judicial styles, but they have earned sterling reputations for integrity, fairness, and excellence in the law that do their community proud, one case at a time


JewishWorldReview.com | They don't see each other often, except at an occasional dinner or convention, but there is a definite sense of camaraderie among the sizeable, albeit low-profile, contingent of Orthodox Jewish judges presiding on the bench in New York's court system.

As my whirlwind excursion into the world of "frum" ( proudly Torah-observant) jurists proceeded apace, a clear portrait emerged of a group of men and women who are diverse in judicial style, in the courts on which they sit, and even in the part of the Orthodox community with which they affiliate — yet are united in their integrity, scholarship, and insistence upon equality before the law.

My first meeting was with Judge David Friedman of the New York State Supreme Court's Appellate Division in Manhattan, and it was the photo shoot towards the end of the meeting that perhaps best captures a sense of the man. Mishpacha's photographer was snapping photos of the judge at a table, on which lay a gavel inscribed with the words "tzedek, tzedek tirdof — pursue justice." The photographer asked Judge Friedman to lift the gavel and bring it down on the table.

But the judge balked. "Just once, your honor — for the picture spread," the photographer cajoled. But the judge politely demurred, explaining that this isn't that kind of court; he doesn't preside over trials, where proceedings are concluded with the bang of the gavel. It just doesn't accurately convey the reality of what he does here in this appeals court — it isn't, in a word, emesdig, or epitomizing truth. Perhaps not outright falsehood, but not quite truth either.

Judge Friedman's Appellate Division is New York State's second highest court, with only the seven-person Court of Appeals in Albany above it. This makes David Friedman, as one of only twenty judges in the Appellate Division's first department, probably the highest-ranking Orthodox Jewish judge in the state.

How does a religious Jew, a graduate of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin and Yeshiva of Eastern Parkway, make his way up the judicial ladder to the rarified plane of an appellate judgeship? Through hard work and the guiding hand of Providence, of course, although Judge Friedman was never a stranger to the courts, since his father had a civil service position in the system. Those were the days when the courts were still open on Saturdays, and his father expended tremendous efforts to get away early on Fridays.

When the senior Friedman took the oral civil service tests, which were also administered on Shabbos, the Jewish Sabbath he had to be hosted over the holy day while he was watched closely to ensure he wasn't surreptitiously being given the answers. Decades later, serendipity had it that an Italian Supreme Court judge who had helped Mr. Friedman with his Sabbath observance challenges took his son David, an Appellate Division staff attorney, as his own law secretary.

The position gave David Friedman a sense that the judiciary was an area for which he had both an aptitude and a penchant. And so, when the opportunity presented itself, he served first as a New York City Civil Court judge for four years, and then spent five years on the Supreme Court bench in Brooklyn. Then, in 1999 — on Purim, of all days — he got the call bringing news of his elevation by Governor Pataki to the Appellate Division, where he remains until today.

Because this court's exclusive function is to hear and rule on appeals, it holds no trials; there is only one courtroom in the building, in which oral arguments are made and decisions rendered. But what a courtroom it is, a visual feast of classical opulence: the stained glass windows, rich wood paneling, vivid murals, and intricately designed domed ceiling.

The Appellate Division's special character is evident even from its exterior, as one approaches the smallish yet elegant courthouse, a 111-year-old Palladian Revival—style building at the corner of Madison Avenue and Twenty-Fifth Street. But it's the tone and tempo inside that truly sets it apart from New York's various trial courts. No bustling flow of attorneys, litigants, witnesses, and court personnel here, filling hallways, filing in and out of courtrooms; rather a quiet, contemplative environment in which a few judges ponder subtle legal issues, research the law, and engage each other in collegial but spirited discussion of the cases pending before them.

But it would be a mistake to think that this is some sort of leisurely atmosphere in which judges can lavish endless stretches of time on a relative handful of cases per year. It's actually been described as "the busiest court of its kind in the world," rendering rulings on an astounding 3,000 cases and 5,000 motions each year. Judge Friedman says this is a "place that never sleeps. At 5 p.m., when other courts are winding down, we're just getting going."

And it's not just a matter of hours logged. "It's also a very passionate place," says the judge, "in which judges come to believe very strongly in their respective legal positions in cases. You'd be amazed at how strong is the legal and factual debate that takes place, even in seemingly dry cases of a commercial nature. This is particularly so when you're on the losing end of a 3-2 vote and you've got to try to convince and win over your colleagues in a respectful and dignified but compelling way. Otherwise your opinion will be just a dissent."

Judge Friedman clearly loves what he does, referring to the judiciary as "a fascinating profession, a very intellectual pursuit, but also a very demanding one. Some of these commercial cases are extraordinarily complex. Judges often send back and forth among the five-judge bench four or five different drafts of their opinions, refining their own views and responding to critiques in the drafts others have sent them."

The Appellate Division has rotating benches, with each judge assigned one day each week to hear appeals. Currently, his day is Tuesday, and in order to be fully prepared, he says, "I'll stay up on the prior Saturday night until two or three in the morning reading the relevant cases, and a solid eight hours on Sunday. I go to a shiur [religious lecture] Sunday morning, and then I come home, sit down in the living room and read all day in preparation for Tuesday's session. Many times when I go somewhere with my wife, she's driving and I'm reading."

NEVER WORTH THE RISK
The judge makes sure to study Talmud before heading off to work, and always tunes into Rabbi Yissocher Frand's Thursday night lecture that's beamed in by satellite from Baltimore. "I try never to miss it. You know, it's late in a very tiring week, but he's so clear and so strong in what he says that somehow no matter how tired you are, you can't help but absorb what he's talking about, and there's such a range of issues that he goes through with such clarity."

Judge Friedman says one of his greatest Jewish influences was Rabbi Menachem Mendel Rubin, the Muzhayer Rebbe, from whom, he says, "I used to get a lot of strength. He had an amazing clarity that enabled him to see things the way they were; he had a clarity about all aspects of public life."

So what, I wonder aloud, are the chances we'll one day see a frum justice, in the person of David Friedman, on New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals, which would probably be the next biggest thing judicially after a religiously observant US Supreme Court justice?

He chuckles good-naturedly. "Oh, I don't know. There are only seven justices for the entire state and there have to be some from upstate and some from downstate. I really haven't said, 'Gee, I want that to happen.' I'm not telling you that if I was offered it, I'd turn it down."

I feign disappointment: "So we can't break that story — 'Judge Friedman seriously considering Court of Appeals position if offered.' Certainly, it would bring honor to the Orthodox community."

He responds softly: "I certainly hope I try to do so in my current position."

There's no question, however, that he has everything it takes to excel at any level of the justice system: a soft-spoken, contemplative manner; a dignified yet inviting judicial mien; and outstanding intellect and scholarship. But above all, there's a commitment to fairness and rectitude. Even our request to take some pictures of him in chambers, which is governed by court rules, meant placing a call to the presiding justice to make sure it was permissible to do so.

As to the perception of the Orthodox community among his colleagues, given the recent spate of high-profile cases involving Orthodox Jews, he notes that "a lot of those cases you read about don't come through this court." Nevertheless, he says, "While I obviously can't know what people are thinking, I would not say there's any negative perception of Orthodox Jews. I definitely don't get a sense of that, not here."

Yet he adds with quiet but unmistakable passion: "When people engage in illegal schemes, or come to you with schemes, you're supposed to know there's something wrong with that. The penalties for that illegal behavior are just never worth it, but more importantly, those are things it's not right for anyone to do, and it's extremely not right for a person who believes in the Torah to do."

He pauses to reflect. "That someone like myself, who is part of a minority within a minority, and whose beliefs and practices are certainly not in the mainstream of society, can sit on this court on a daily basis and function on this court the same as anyone else, you know, it's a great statement about our country and our society."

And that, in turn, is a great statement about our community's good fortune in having representatives of David Friedman's caliber.

NOTHING'S AUTOMATIC
The Supreme Court building in downtown Brooklyn isn't all that far, as the crow flies, from Judge Friedman's Manhattan chambers. But this being rough-and-tumble Brooklyn — where the sign on the Belt Parkway announcing drivers' imminent departure from the borough reads 'Leaving Brooklyn? Fuggedaboutit!' — it's actually worlds away. And Judge Herbert Kramer, with his beguiling combination of old-school wisdom and Yiddishe chein, fits right in.

The judge is the most senior jurist in Brooklyn Supreme, on the bench now for thirty-two years and counting. He's currently on certified status, meaning that he is past the official retirement age but has been approved for several additional stints. "But that doesn't mean I'm working less than before," he hastens to add. "I'm actually working more!"

Since he first joined the judiciary in 1979, many more observant Jews have joined the judicial ranks, in Brooklyn in particular. So I wonder aloud whether their numbers are seen by others as somehow disproportionate to the size of the Orthodox community.



Judge Kramer points out that all of the current Orthodox judges were elected, not appointed, and some of those campaigns, including his own first primary race in 1979, were rather hotly contested. In other words, the frum judges have earned their positions on merit and voters' positive assessments of them. Besides, says the judge, "Myself aside, they're all very good at what they do."

He also observes that the voting clout of the Orthodox community is less than its burgeoning population would seem to indicate, because children and youth below the voting age comprise a large percentage of the community. Religious candidates for office are by no means shoo-ins for election. In fact, one of those candidates was Judge Kramer's wife, a former political aide and now an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College, who ran unsuccessfully for a New York City Council seat in Brooklyn about a dozen years ago.

Still, does the visible presence of religious judges in the New York courts create a sense of ill will on the part of judicial colleagues?

"Well, I hate to tell you, but I'm the president of the Brooklyn chapter of the Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, and I was elected to that position by my colleagues," says Judge Kramer. "And my friend Mark Friedlander in Bronx Supreme is the outgoing president of the chapter of that group covering all of New York City, so that should tell you something. Look, there may be some resentment that we don't participate in some of the collegial activities due to our kosher eating habits, our Sabbath observance, and so forth, but it's just not an overriding concern here in the city.

"The fact is," he continues, "a black judge came over to me about four or five years ago and asked me why 'we' don't attend state judicial seminars. I said to him 'Listen, the elections for organizational positions are held on Saturday, right? So why should we attend?' So he said to me, 'What if we were to move the meetings to run Sunday through Tuesday?' And that's what they did. So now I go, and Marty Ritholtz [of Queens Supreme] goes, and Mark Friedlander goes …"

NOT RABBINICAL STUDENTS
Judges Ritholtz and Friedlander are both fascinating individuals in their own right. Judge Ritholtz's yeshivah career spans about as wide a spectrum as imaginable, from Yeshiva University's high school to Kerem B'Yavneh through to Torah Ore, Lakewood, and Ponovezh, where he remains active, topped off by a rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. Judge Friedlander, a Boro Park native and current resident of Riverdale (where he also led the local Jewish community council for twenty years), attended Toras Emes, the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School (RJJ), and Rabbi Gustman's yeshivah. He retired from the US Air Force Reserves with the rank of colonel and takes considerable pride in his skill as a baal korei (public Torah reader).

I ask Judge Kramer about the influence, however subtle, that Torah teachings exert on his judicial persona. The judge pauses, his voice softening wistfully.

"You have to understand, I'm probably one of the few frum people you'll meet who never went to yeshivah, although I have picked up a fair amount of Jewish learning in the interim. My parents were both European immigrants who got married on the Lower East Side. Later, they moved to Bayonne, New Jersey, where I grew up. There was no Jewish school there, and when we moved to Brooklyn in 1948, I was already in the eighth grade and I was refused admittance to yeshivah. My younger brother was accepted, but my sister, two years my junior, was initially also refused, so my mother, may her memory be blessed, went and sat herself down in the principal's office and said she's not budging from there until her daughter was taken in — and guess who won?"

Perhaps it was that unfortunate formative experience that led him many years later to become one of the founders — and then president — of the Bnos Yisroel Girls School in Flatbush, a role that is highlighted prominently by several plaques in his chambers.

Not quite prepared for the judge's frank answer, I remark a bit self-consciously that my question was more about the values that inform his judging than about a specific Jewish teaching. His answer is illuminating.

"Frum Jews are, in many respects, outsiders to the general population. We keep to ourselves and our way of life also ensures that we don't overly intermingle in the surrounding society. And that attribute of being separate and apart is one that a judge needs, to see himself as apart from the lifestyles and mores of the parties that appear before him. It helps cultivate a sense of fairness, and the ability to look at a case with objectivity."

His lack of a conventional yeshivah background didn't stop him from once being "ordained." He explains that, as a result of the exodus of Jews from Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood in the 1950s and '60s, many area synagogues had merged. A small Orthodox congregation ended up taking space in a building that housed a much larger Conservative house of worship, but after some time, the latter decided to evict the former from its premises and the shul sued to enforce its right to stay put.

Judge Kramer got the case by default from another judge who refused to handle it, but on learning he was Orthodox, the Conservatives moved for him to recuse himself, claiming he was a rabbi.

"I am not," the judge told them curtly. "Please tell me where I got my ordination."

It wasn't long before he was getting calls from the local paper about his "ordination," and Yeshiva University was getting calls about him, too. In the end, he stood firm and kept the case, and his eventual ruling in the matter was affirmed all the way up to the state's highest tribunal, the Court of Appeals.

Ironically, he's had a number of cases involving mosques which, as he puts it, "run into some of the same problems that, l'havdil, our shuls do because like us they have no hierarchical structure, and it's every congregation for itself." Yet they've never asked for his recusal. Do they know he's frum? "Of course they do. All the regular Brooklyn lawyers know, because they see me with my yarmulke around the courthouse. And besides, they all do their research on who I am before coming into my courtroom.

"By the way," he adds, "the reason I don't wear a yarmulke on the bench — and there are different views among judges about this — is because when I first started out in New York City Civil Court, I was in the criminal part and handling drug cases and such, and I asked for a rabbinic ruling. Rabbi Dovid Cohen, who is a personal friend and old neighbor of mine, told me that not only I shouldn't, but I absolutely couldn't wear one because it would create a sakanah for me and for other frum Jews. I do wear my yarmulke everywhere else but the courtroom, and nowadays in Brooklyn the predominant thing is to wear, especially for those who began doing so as law secretaries before becoming judges."


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Although earlier in his career, while at Civil Court and before that as an assistant United States Attorney, he handled criminal matters, now he presides exclusively over civil matters. He prefers them, because the civil scope is broader, covering such diverse areas as commercial disputes, negligence suits, and "all kinds of oddball cases that nobody's ever heard of."

Despite having moved over to the civil part, Judge Kramer takes obvious pride in the role he played earlier in his career in the creation of the TASC initiative, known colloquially as the "drug courts." This program, which has since been implemented statewide, provides for judges to accept a guilty plea from drug offenders and send them to a narcotics treatment center instead of prison.

Over the course of a long career, Judge Kramer has had well over 200 of his opinions published either in the volumes of the state case reporter or in the New York Law Journal, which often reprints notable decisions. One area in which he has particular expertise — "not expertise," he corrects me, "involvement" — and on which he has written a substantial number of opinions, is foreclosure litigation.

When I ask if he's perceived as more debtor friendly or more partial to creditors, he sighs. "I hope I'm perceived as fair. I'm told by people at the banks that as compared with other Brooklyn judges, I'm seen as moderate."

There's that word again — fair. It seems to be a recurrent theme.

He's also presided over three suits brought by smokers against tobacco companies, which puts him in the top tier of judges who've heard those controversial cases. In fact, a case he presided over in 2004 was the first in the Northeast in which punitive damages were imposed as the result of the death of an individual smoker. The jury verdict against Brown & Williamson of $20 million for misleading the public about smoking's dangers — a compromise between jurors arguing for a punitive award of $1 billion, and others seeking to drastically limit the amount — was later reduced by Judge Kramer to $5 million. His punitive damages ruling was upheld on appeal by the state's Appellate Division, then reversed by a later appellate court based on a new US Supreme Court opinion.

When I inquire as to his "batting average" when his rulings are appealed in higher courts, the judge asserts that his record is quite good. But what's even more telling, he notes, is the infrequency with which his rulings are appealed at all.

"When I was interviewed by the bar committee before being certified to serve past retirement age, the chairman said to me, 'I don't understand, we looked you up, but couldn't seem to find your name in the Appellate Division records.' My response was, 'Look, of course I've been reversed; the only one who isn't reversed is someone who's not ruling on anything at all. But the fact that my name barely appears in the appellate record means the attorneys for the losing party can't find anything wrong with my decision that could serve as the basis for an appeal. If they can't find an error, they're not going to spend the time and money it takes to appeal.'"

As a judge who sits in the most heavily Orthodox county in New York, and who has had some high-profile Orthodox-related cases come his way, does Judge Kramer see the number of frum litigants as disproportionately high, perhaps projecting a sense of entitlement or being above the law?

"I've been around a long time," he says, "and I just haven't seen the sense of entitlement of which you speak. Nor is there a disproportionate prevalence or a pattern of behavior that is unique. That's just not my experience. When I served on the criminal side, I never had a single Orthodox person appear before me, but my experience may be unusual. For the most part, frum people don't show up in Supreme Court, and when they do, it's for business-related matters and I send them on for arbitration before a beis din. Of course, when I was on the Civil Court bench handling landlord-tenant cases, I'd see them come in as landlords, but they weren't any different than any others — landlords are landlords…

"You know, I was recently learning something in Tractate Sanhedrin" of the Talmud — in a weekly study session that he began twenty-five years ago with the head of the Brooklyn Supreme Court attorneys' pool, and still maintains by phone now that his study partner lives in Israel — "about being impartial in judging. Of course, in the secular world there's a moral obligation to do that, but if you are frum, it's more than that. It's a religious imperative."

NEIGHBORHOOD REGULAR
Not far from the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge is Judge Martin Shulman's chambers in New York State Supreme Court at 60 Centre Street. The stately courthouse is a stone's throw from the Lower East Side, where the judge is a long-time active resident, and quietly proud of his communal achievements.

"I served two terms as president of the Bialystoker Shul while Rabbi Yitzchok Singer was still alive, and I've continued my involvement there and in the larger community ever since." There doesn't seem to be anything too small or too large for him to take on — from outreach efforts, like leading a yearly beginners' High Holiday service for fifty to seventy participants, and teaching a Hebrew reading crash course, to running various synagogue programs with his wife, to serving as president of the neighborhood's umbrella Jewish organization, the United Jewish Council.

The judge was an early advocate of the Lower East Side's potential to serve as a magnet for both tourists drawn by its storied past — together with his dear friend Norman Davidowitz, he spearheaded the renovation of the Bialystoker, now a national landmark — and young frum families attracted by the affordable cooperative housing and convenient proximity to Manhattan's downtown business district. Like many of the neighborhood's professionals, Judge Shulman walks to work.

But there's another feature of the East Side that means a great deal to him: Rabbi Reuven Feinstein — rosh yeshivah of Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim of Staten Island (MTJ) — and his regular Sabbath afternoon lecture. Judge Shulman says that although he's been attending for fifteen to twenty years now, "I came in late. He's been doing this for maybe thirty to thirty-five years. There's a whole diverse group of between ten and twenty of us who participate, from all walks of life — a financial planner; a radiologist; a guidance counselor; Hon. Shlomo Hagler, a colleague in Supreme Court to whom I've been a mentor and who is himself now president of the shul; CPAs; kollel fellows."

Officially it's a Talmud lecture, but it's also "an opportunity for us to have a no-holds-barred discussion on any issue, Jewish or otherwise. We have access to a gadol [spiritual giant] who is ready, willing, and able to talk the talk and walk the walk, and we can learn what a gadol thinks about these issues that affect us, not only here but in Israel. We've discussed some of the bans, the difference between the Israeli and American cultures. It's an unbelievable forum for us, a chance to ask loaded questions and get honest answers."

Do the discussions also touch upon issues that arise in the courtroom? "Absolutely. Questions about mesirah, business ethics … There's a lot of tension in the judicial system over questions of whether disputes should be adjudicated in court or beis din and about the fact that the latter does not have the kind of clear-cut, formal procedures that the courts do. So we talk about that."

As the judge continues, it becomes apparent that the relationship extends well beyond one Sabbath afternoon hour a week. "I didn't learn in his yeshivah. I'm not from MTJ, I'm from YU, a totally different universe, and yet, I can relate to him in many ways, even though I'm not from the chareidi camp. Rav Reuven is very close; he helped make our first daughter's shidduch. Every year, we go to the Torah Umesorah convention because my wife works for the organization, and the highlight for us is spending Shabbos with the rosh yeshivah. Even though there are other roshei yeshivah there and he's a part of that, he always sits together with us. I feel a special connection to him, and it's had a tremendous influence on me."

He may be an urbane Manhattanite now, but Martin Shulman got his start in life in bucolic Hazleton, Pennsylvania, just outside Wilkes-Barre. His father, a kosher butcher, sent him to day school, and after stints at the Scranton yeshivah and Baltimore's Talmudical Academy, it was on to Yeshiva University. While his own orientation is toward the YU orbit, his daughters all went the Bais Yaakov of the Lower East Side and from there to Boro Park's Machon Bais Yaakov and seminary in Israel.

Although he jokes that he has "what you'd call a blended situation," his pride in the kids and their families is plain to see as he scrambles to show off the most recent pictures of his grandchildren on his office computer. The judge attributes much of the early religious influence on him and his siblings, who today are all religiously observant, to his grandfather, a European Torah scholar who was able to trace his lineage all the way back to Eli HaKohein.

ROUTE TO THE BENCH
Judge Shulman started on the city-level Civil Court bench in 1995, moving up to state-level Supreme Court in 2000. Now he's come full circle, serving not only as a Supreme Court judge, but also as a judge in Appellate Term, which hears appeals from the both the criminal court and the very civil court in which his career began. His areas of specialty include mass torts (such as injuries from defective products), eminent domain (government takings of private property), tax certiorari (challenges to tax assessments), and asset forfeiture (criminals relinquishing ill-gotten profits).

I observe that, for most judges, the route to the bench seems to run through the political arena (some, like former city councilman Noach Dear, actually join the bench after holding elected office), but rare is the judge who gets elected without spending a few years working the local Democratic clubs and community centers. Isn't there something unseemly about that? The judge's answer is a reasonable one.

"Unlike politicians, judicial candidates can't run on how they'd rule on specific issues, so the public has little basis on which to make its choices. Thus, an aspiring judge has to show he's communally minded. And it's very important, of course, that he's seen as concerned about every segment of the community, not just his own. So you've got to get out in the community and shop yourself."

Despite his even-keeled and accepting temperament, the one thing for which the judge clearly has little patience is anything that smacks of being less than straight. It's evident from the pains he takes to make sure the rules allow us to photograph him in chambers; from the irritation he feels when acquaintances joke about having him "fix" their parking tickets; and from his palpable distaste for litigants who pander to his Orthodoxy.

"It's happened many times, and I resent it. Once, a woman came to court in the morning wearing pants. I didn't even know she was Jewish. Well, apparently someone did their homework and she reappeared after the lunch break wearing a skirt and reading from an ArtScroll siddur, as if now I'll have mercy on her. I don't mind people wishing me 'Good Shabbos' in court, because they generally mean it, even if they're not religious or even Jewish. But if they're trying to say, 'Oh, Judge, we're the same,' that's ridiculous."

Judge Shulman describes his signature strength as his ability to mediate between parties and bring them to compromise. "It gives me great satisfaction to broker compromise, to gain the parties' trust that I'm there to help save them money, time, and heartache.

"I know I've done a good job if the parties leave happy — or even if they leave a little unhappy, because after all the nature of p'sharah [compromise], as opposed to a verdict, is that there are no winners and losers. But mostly," he says, "they leave happy." And, as our conversation comes to an end and I gather my things to go, I too leave happy, knowing that the judges before whom countless New Yorkers of all colors and creeds stand at their most vulnerable moments — when their money, or even their freedom, are on the line — are these outstanding members of our community, for whom "honorable" is not just a title, but a description, and a mission.

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Eytan Kobre is an attorney practicing in Brooklyn, New York. He studied at the Yeshiva of Staten Island and Yeshiva Shaar HaTorah. A graduate of the Fordham University School of Law, he previously practiced law with two Manhattan firms and served for several years as associate general counsel at Agudath Israel of America. He is an editor at Mishpacha magazine, where this first appeared.


© 2013, Mishpacha Magazine