Biography of Louis Dembitz Brandeis
Brandeis's family were respectful of Jewish traditions, but also celebrated Christian holidays such as Christmas as secular observances. They were mindful of anti-Semitism, having removed themselves from Europe after noting the outbreak of anti-Semitic sentiments during the 1848 revolutions.
Louis Brandeis American Jurist
On his return to the United States, Brandeis enrolled in Harvard Law school. He developed a mysterious eye ailment, which was variously attributed to poor lighting and/or an overload of reading, and some eye specialists advised him to give up law. But he persevered, got others to read materials to him and completed his LLB (1875) graduating as valedictorian. His grades were so high that they set a record that was not surpassed for many years. He completed his graduate studies in 1878. Upon graduation, he engaged initially in corporate law practice.
Brandeis quickly made a reputation as an able jurist. He made U.S. legal history with his "Right to Privacy" article written with Samuel Warren in the newly founded Harvard Law Review. The article inaugurated the tradition of formation of legal opinions in academic law reviews, outside the system of legal precedents. The next year, Brandeis married Alice Goldmark.
Brandeis soon saw that his sympathies did not lie with the large corporations, and became a champion of small business and the common man, and a popular spokesperson for the populist movement and the progressive branch of the Republican party. He was involved as a "trustbuster" in several anti-trust cases and tried to help Sacco and Vanzetti. He supported Woodrow Wilson's campaign for president, and wrote a series of articles, later turned into a book, called "Other People's Money and how the Bankers Use it," a dated but still timely explanation of the evils of unregulated banking and the need for government guarantees of the banking system and regulation of corporate greed. These ideas formed the foundation for much Wilsonian legislation.
Brandeis was active in advocating a variety of progressive causes, including representation of labor in business management, saving public subways, instituting savings bank life insurance and numerous other progressive causes. He was a partisan of scientific management and efficiency in business. Despite, or because, of his German education and Habsburg background, he advocated US entry into World War I on the side of the allies, Brandeis was a vigorous defender of the rights of minorities to function as minorities and retain their special ethnic cultural ties, a right which he believed was a foundation of American democracy and Americans, and which became his path to American Zionism.
President Wilson tried to appoint Brandeis Attorney General. However, vicious opposition from conservatives, who feared his ability and devotion to liberal causes, blocked the nomination. In 1916, Wilson nominated Brandeis as associate Justice of the Supreme Court, the first Jew to be named to this position. The nomination met vigorous and even vicious opposition from all former presidents of the American Bar Association, and from William Howard Taft, Elihu Root, Joseph Choate, Senator Borah and President Lowell of Harvard. This formidable array of opponents were not ashamed to use anti-Semitism as a weapon against Brandeis, and only desisted when threatened with exposure of their own records. Woodrow Wilson wrote to the Senate:
Despite the opposition, Brandeis was confirmed, and served on the court until 1939, writing many remarkable opinions, too often as dissenting opinions, together with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
Justice Holmes was later to write in a foreword to the volume of essays published on the occasion of Louis Brandeis' seventy-fifth birthday. "He always has had the happy word that lifts up one's heart. It came from knowledge, experience and courage and the high way in which he always has taken life." ..."Whenever he left my house [this was before Brandeis' appointment to the bench] I was likely to say to my wife, 'There goes a really good man.' I think that the world would now agree with me in adding what the years have proved, 'and a really great judge.' ref
Louis Dembitz Brandeis and Zionism
Louis Brandeis came to the Zionist movement late in life, becoming active only in 1910, when he learned that his uncle, Lewis Dembitz, had been a Zionist. In that year he also mediated a strike of Jewish garment workers. Most of them were Eastern European Jews with strong Zionist convictions and unexpectedly, he found they had a commitment to democratic ideals and progressivism. He was further introduced to Zionism by the British Zionist Jacob de Haas and by the Palestinian Jewish scientist, Aaron Aaronsohn. It is also claimed that his wife, Alice Goldmark, was sympathetic to Zionism and drew him to it. In a 1910 interview published in the Boston Jewish Advocate, Brandeis expressed sympathy with the Zionist cause. It is the earliest known Brandeis statement on Zionism:
By 1913, he agreed to chair a Zionist gathering in Boston, welcoming Nachum Sokolow to Boston in March of that year. Brandeis said:
Brandeis's statement was greeted by his Boston audience with great enthusiasm; "matched by the incredulity of his relatives in Louisville ." (Alfred Lief, Brandeis, The Personal History of an American Ideal, New York, 1936, p. 279.)
Brandeis produced an ideological synthesis that integrated his progressive convictions with Zionism and showed that Zionism and Americanism were compatible. "The highest Jewish ideals are essentially American in a very important particular," he stated. "It is Democracy that Zionism represents. It is Social Justice which Zionism represents, and every bit of that is the American ideal of the twentieth century."
Brandeis explained that "Zionism is the Pilgrim inspiration and impulse all over again." He told his audiences, "To be good Americans, we must be better Jews, and to be better Jews, we must become Zionists." American Jews would be better Americans if they rallied to the aid of their brothers abroad, practicing noblesse oblige, the obligation of those more fortunate to help those in need.
These ideas were not peculiar to his approach to Jews. They characterized his approach to ethnic minorities in the United States. In 1915, Louis Brandeis gave a Fourth of July Speech entitled "True Americanism." In it, he opposed the "melting pot" principle and laid the foundation for multi-ethnic pluralism, insisting that America would be strengthened by maintained and encouraging the particularism and individual characteristics of ethnic groups, and extending the constitutional rights of individuals to protect ethnic minorities. Brandeis's ideological convictions regarding the rightful place of ethnic minorities in the United States came to define the approach of many American Jews to their Jewish heritage and roots, even if they did not attribute the ideas to Brandeis and were unable to articulate the relation between their American and Jewish roots.
Brandeis, in his origins, represented the older generations of American Jews of German origin, mostly upper class or upper middle class, followers of the anti-Zionist, reform Jews and assimilationist, as opposed to the large influx of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who had begun arriving following the Kishinev Pogroms in 1882 and 1903, and subsequent upheavals in Russia and Eastern Europe. Remarkably, Brandeis became a leader and representative of these Jews in many ways, who were Orthodox (and later conservative) and very much pro-Zionist, but politically powerful. In a sense, he was like the Viennese Theodor Herzl leading the Jewish masses of Eastern Europe.
Opposition to a Jewish homeland in what was then Palestine came from both Orthodox and reform Jews. The latter were associated with the American Jewish Committee. The Reform Jewish movement was founded in Germany at the beginning of the 19th century as part of the Haskalah. They declared that the Jews were a religion and not a nation, and that Jews had given up their quest for Zion and were now content to be only citizens of the various countries in which they resided. They believed, that if American Jews called openly for a Jewish homeland, they would be accused of divided loyalty or, even worse, disloyalty to the United States. They rallied to the cry, "America is our Zion." The Union of American Hebrew Congregations had declared in 1898 that, "We are unalterably opposed to political Zionism. America is our Zion... The mission of Israel is spiritual, not political."ref
The Jewish leader and philanthropist, Jacob Schiff, thought Zionism would foster "a separateness that would be fatal." He was eventually persuaded to help the Jews in Palestine, provided the project could be presented to him as unrelated to Zionism. He became reconciled to a species of Zionism, provided it would have a marked religious content, which both Louis Brandeis and Chaim Weizmann, who had a secular vision of Zionism, opposed.
Isaac Mayer Wise, patriarch of the American Reform movement pontificated, "We think it about as well to let the old Jerusalem rest under the accretion of ages as it is described in the Bible and Josephus. The consequences to mankind cannot be found under the rubbish of 2,000 years."
Traditional Orthodox leaders also spoke out against secular Zionism. They declaimed that God, not man, would have to restore the Jewish people to Jerusalem.
When Zionist advocate Julius Haber tried to raise funds for Palestinian Jews at a Lower East Side synagogue, an elderly man told him, "Young man, you are going against God's will. If he wanted us to have Zion again, He would restore it again without the help of the so-called Zionists. God doesn't need apprentices. Please go schnorr (beg for charity) somewhere else and let us lament in peace, like good Jews." ref
Zionism existed in the United States before Brandeis. Originally, the American Zionist Federation was the creation of a minority of sympathetic Jews, primarily settled American Jews of the older generation, who were overwhelmed by the immigration wave of 1903-1905. The original Zionism was a Zionism of philanthropic associations who would support Jewish immigration in Palestine and the creation of a national home for Eastern European Jews, provided that they did not have to have any active part in it. They did not desire a world organization of the Jewish people, and did not consider themselves, American Jews, to be part of a nationality.
A more militant Zionism was professed by the new immigrants, but they too had to adapt their views to the American Diaspora, which did not seem to have any of the debilitating strictures of European Jewish life and did not coercively force them to choose between being Jewish and being American. Prior to World War I, Zionism was the province of these Eastern European Jews, the "downtown Jews" concentrated in the Lower East Side. They carried on a constant war with the reform and Orthodox anti-Zionists. They, and the Zionist movement in Europe, were conscious of their limitations and actively tried to recruit mainstream Jewish leaders of the established population both in and outside New York, the "uptown Jews" to their cause. For that reason, they reached out to Louis Brandeis, whose prestige and connections could make Zionism respectable among all Jews.
World War I provided the opportunity and the need to expand the Zionist movement. Brandeis refused to war with the Jewish anti-Zionist establishment. He went above their heads to speak to American Jews and establish Zionism as the fashionable and respectable ideology of American Jews, by making it respectable among Americans. His contribution was both more and less than is sometimes assumed. Zionism expanded enormously in the United States during the war, but this was as much a result of circumstances as it was a result of the work of Brandeis. Brandeis articulated the American Jewish version of Zionism, Zionism as a noble progressive liberal philanthropic cause that should be subscribed to by every Jew. Brandeis made Zionism into a part of the American vision. "By battling for the Zionist cause, the American ideal of democracy, of social justice and of liberty will be given wider expression," he told delegates to the 1915 Zionist convention.ref
True, many of these ideas had existed before Brandeis. But when Brandeis said them, they became acceptable not only to American Jews, but to the American public at large. He recruited many of his friends to the Zionist cause, both Jewish and non-Jewish, including judge Julian Mack, judge Felix Frankfurter, Mary Fels, Robert Szold, Nathan Straus, and Norman Hapgood, the non-Jewish editor of Harper's Weekly. Through Hapgood and his own contacts in the Wilson administration, he brought Zionism into the Democratic party. If Zionism was good enough for the non-Jews, it would could be supported by Jews.
With the outbreak of World War I, it had become impossible for the World Zionist Organization to continue to administer its activities from Germany, where its headquarters were located, or from any other non-neutral European country. The center of Zionism was removed to the United States. A Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs was formed, and Brandeis was made the Chairman. American Zionism was soon reinforced by the mass exodus of the Palestinian Zionist leadership to America, who were exiled by the Turks owing to their Russian (enemy) citizenship.
The war had brought out a spate of anti-Zionist, "patriotic" activities by rabbis of all persuasions, who inveighed against Jewish nationalism. It had also brought an emergency situation in Palestine, where Turkish government depredations had impoverished the economy and special persecution was directed against Jews and Zionists, and later an even worse emergency in Europe for Jews caught in the Russian revolution (see Russian Civil War Pogroms). The war also brought a tremendous opportunity for the divided and impoverished Zionist movement, since the Ottoman Empire, having sides with the Central powers, would finally be broken up, and Palestine might be available for Jewish settlement. Brandeis overcame the timid anti-Zionism of the rabbis, organized the little Zionist groups into a nationwide organization, was instrumental in fund raising and in assuring the support of the United States for what later became the Balfour Declaration and the British mandate for Palestine. When Louis Brandeis was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court in 1916, he was attacked for his Zionist activities by enemies in the American Jewish Committee, then anti-Zionist. He resigned from official Zionist posts but remained a leader of the Zionist movement.
Brandeis was an organizational genius as well as a great orator, and turned the ramshackle American Zionist federation into a well organized movement with a budget of millions, able, at least in small part, to alleviate the suffering of Jews in Palestine and to support immigration. This note addressed to Morris Rothenberg, then Chairman of the Zionist Council of Greater New York, on the occasion of the Council's Eleventh Annual Convention on February 18, 1917, is typical of Brandeis' approach to organizational work and his understanding of what was really most urgently required by Zionism:
Please extend my greetings to your Council at its annual meeting and tell them that they can prove themselves good Zionists only by producing Members, Money, Discipline.'
At a crucial moment in the deliberations of the British government regarding the Balfour Declaration, American support was needed. Brandeis apparently got President Wilson to reverse his policy of non-intervention, favored by his adviser Colonel House, and to provide the necessary support, still insisting that it must not be made public.
Brandeis helped to organize the 1918 Pittsburgh conference of the Zionist Organization of America, which evolved from the American Zionist Federation and which, at that time, was truly representative of American Jewry. The platform was remarkable for its synthesis of Zionist and progressive ideals, and many of its ideas seemed to coincide with those of the Zionist leadership in Palestine. The platform called for "political and civil equality" regardless of "race, sex or faith," public ownership of land, natural resources and public utilities, the application of the "cooperative principle," and free public instruction in Hebrew for all grades and subjects, Brandeis headed the committee that organized the American Jewish Congress, which adopted a Zionist platform and helped to bring about support of the Balfour Declaration and the Jewish national home in Palestine by the American Jewish Committee, heretofore a bastion of anti-Zionist sentiment. In 1919 he toured Palestine with Chaim Weizmann for the first and only time, and in 1920 he travelled to the Zionist convention on London.
Louis Brandeis in Palestine (center, in pith helmet) with Chaim Weizmann and British soldiers, 1919
However, Brandeis and the European Zionists soon had a falling out over a number of issues. In some cases the divisions were more apparent than real, and may have reflected a personal power struggle, but in others, the problems were real enough. Brandeis's vision of democracy was sometimes limited to those who happened to share his opinions, shunting aside leaders and groups who were not in his following and did not share his views. He also needed to represent his American constituency and to represent a point of view that would make it possible to raise the sums needed for developing Palestine.
True to the American philanthropic vision of Zionism, Brandeis wanted to disband the Zionist Committee in Palestine and curtail the political activities of the Zionist movement, on the premise that Zionism had achieved its political goals with the Balfour declaration and that only philanthropic and administrative work remained in recruiting immigrants and building up the land. He forced cuts in budgets for Hebrew education and similar cultural Zionist projects as well. His obsession with scientific management caused him to call for removal of veteran Zionist leaders such as Ze'ev Jabotinsky on the grounds that they were not professionally trained administrators and would not be "efficient." He had a point. The Zionist organization was wasteful, and he had to account for funds to the contributors.
"One eccentric war hero" was not a good line item in a budget.
Brandeis wanted an emphasis on cooperative movements, but he wanted it within the very American framework of free enterprise. He also proposed to integrate non-Zionists into the Zionist movement to make it more eclectic, whereas Weizmann favored a separate, associate membership for these non-Zionist leaders. American Zionist donors, especially Brandeis, believed that Zionists "voted with their dollars." That is, donors should have full control over projects and a full say in how their money is used. The World Zionist Organization viewed these donations as "tax money" that were put into a public fund, to be used by the Zionist leadership as they saw fit.
Brandeis was clearly wrong on the issue of de-politicizing the Zionist movement. While it may have been necessary for Brandeis to depoliticize Zionism in order to make it popular with American Jews, it was impossible to depoliticize Zionism in the face of growing Arab and British opposition to the mandate, and the needs of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. The Palestinian and European Zionists were also not about to remove their most able and trusted leaders in the name of "efficiency." Zionism was very much in need of inspirational romanticists and heroes, as well as efficient administrators. In 1921, , Chaim Weizmann travelled to the US with Albert Einstein, and, at the Zionist Conference in Cleveland, Weizmann led the "downtown Zionists" (referring to New York Lower East Side) to depose Brandeis's supporters. Brandeis himself had no formal posts since his appointment to the Supreme Court.
Louis Brandeis and Julian Mack withdrew and organized a separate but parallel set of institutions and charitable projects for Palestine, gradually losing support over the next decade. However by 1929, the emergency created by the riots in Palestine as well as the need to reorganize the Jewish Agency to include non-Zionists helped to heal the rift and brought Brandeis and his followers back to mainstream Zionism. The Brandeis affiliated Palestine Land Council and Palestine Land Leagues were merged into the Palestine Economic Corporation (PEC), which he and his followers had founded in 1925. The PEC became part of of the Zionist mainstream. In 1937 Brandeis intervened in opposition to the partition scheme of the Peel Commission.
Louis Brandeis as an Icon of American Zionism and American Liberalism
Louis Brandeis retired from the Supreme Court on February 13, 1939, and died on October 5, 1941. He was honored by the creation of the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law in the University of Louisville, and Brandeis University in Waltham/Boston Massachusetts, by Kibbutz Ein Hashofet in Israel, and numerous high schools. The remains of both Justice Brandeis and his wife, Alice, who died in 1945, are interred beneath the school of Law in Louisville. His professional papers are archived there as well. Justice Brandeis made the Louisville law school one of the thirteen Supreme Court repositories in the United States. The school's principal law review publication, the Brandeis Law Journal, is likewise named in his honor. The law school's Louis D. Brandeis Society awards the Brandeis Medal. Brandeis university likewise has a collection of his private papers and awards a Brandeis Medal. Several public high schools and Jewish elementary schools are named in his honor in the United States.
Louis Brandeis Chronologyy
Louis Brandeis Bibliography
Roy M. Mersky, Louis Dembitz Brandeis, 1856 - 1941; a Bibliography. (New Haven: Yale Law School, 1958.)
Gene Teitelbaum, Justice Louis D. Brandeis: a Bibliography of Writings and Other Materials on the Justice. (Littleton: Fred B. Rothman & Co., 1988.) Update and competion and Mersky's work.
Books by Brandeis
Other People's Money, and How the Bankers Use It. (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co, 1914.) .
Business--A Profession. (Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1914.) Available online in this web site.
The Curse of Bigness: Miscellaneous Papers of Louis D. Brandeis. Edited by Osmond K. Fraenkel. (New York: Viking Press, 1934.) Includes his landmark article "The Right to Privacy."
Brandeis on Zionism. Edited by Solomon Goldman. (Washington, D.C.: Zionist Organization of America, 1942.) Contains all of his Zionist speeches.
The Unpublished Opinions of Mr. Justice Brandeis; the Supreme Court at Work. Edited by Alexander M. Bickel. (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1957.)
The Letters of Louis D. Brandeis. 5 volumes. Edited by Melvin I. Urofsky and David W. Levy. (Albany: State University of New York, 1971-1978.)
"Half Brother, Half Son:" the Letters of Louis D. Brandeis to Felix Frankfurter. Edited by Melvin I. Urofsky and David W. Levy. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991.)
The Family Letters of Louis D. Brandeis. Edited by Melvin I. Urofsky and David W. Levy. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.)
Biographies and other books about Brandeis
Jacob de Haas, Louis D. Brandeis; a Biographical Sketch. (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1929.)
Alfred Lief, Brandeis; the Personal History of an American Ideal. (New York: Stackpole Sons, 1936.)
Alpheus Thomas Mason, Bureaucracy Convicts Itself. (New York: The Viking Press, 1941.)
Alpheus Thomas Mason, Brandeis, a Free Man's Life. (New York: The Viking Press, 1946.)
Samuel J. Konefsky, The Legacy of Holmes and Brandeis. (The Macmillan Company, 1956.)
Melvin I. Urofsky, A Mind of One Piece: Brandeis and American Reform. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971.)
Allon Gal, Brandeis of Boston. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980.)
Nelson L. Dawson, Louis D. Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter, and the New Deal. (Hamden: Archon Books, 1980.)
Melvin I. Urofsky, Louis D. Brandeis and the Progressive Tradition. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1981.)
Lewis J. Paper, Brandeis. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983.)
Leonard Baker, Brandeis and Frankfurter: a Dual Biography. (New York: Harper & Row, 1984.)
Philippa Strum, Louis D. Brandeis: Justice for the People. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.)
Nelson L. Dawson, editor. Brandeis and America. (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1989.)
Philippa Strum, Brandeis: Beyond Progressivism. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993.)
Stephen W. Baskerville, Of Laws and Limitations: an Intellectual Portrait of Louis Dembitz Brandeis. (Cranbury: Associated University Presses, 1994.)
Edward A. Purcell, Jr., Brandeis and the Progressive Constitution. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.)
Speeches and articles by Brandeis
"An Exhortation To Organized Labor"-- February 5, 1905 speech.
"The Desirable Industrial Peace"-- April 25, 1905 speech.
"What Loyalty Demands"--November 28, 1905 speech.
"Laborers As Directors With Bosses Possible"--an interview in the February 14, 1915 Boston Post.
The Jewish People Should be Preserved - Speech, August 30, 1914.
Strain Every Nerve - Louis D. Brandeis - Speech, September, 1914.
A Call to the Educated Jew - Menorah Journal, January, 1915.
"The Jewish Problem: How To Solve It"-- April 15, 1915 speech.
Dreams may be made into realities - June 1915 speech
True Americanism - July, 1915.
Louis Brandeis: Numbers Count - December 1915 speech.
Not by Charity Alone - January 2, 1916, speech.
The Common Cause of the Jewish People - January 24, 1916, speech.
Democracy means Responsibility - July 7, 1916 speech.
Zionism Brings Understanding and Happiness - November 13, 1916 speech.
The time is urgent - July 7, 1920 speech.
Efficiency in Public Service - July 14, 1920 speech.
The Pilgrims had Faith - May 27, 1923 speech.
The Human Resource - May 27, 1923 speech.
Realization will not come as a gift - June 24, 1923 speech.
Palestine has developed Jewish Character - speech, November 24, 1929
June 28, 2009
Berlin, George I., The Brandeis-Weizmann Dispute, American Jewish Historical Quarterly, 60, 1970, pp 37-68.
Friesel, Evyatar, Criteria and Conception in the Historiography of German and American Zionism, Studies in Zionism, 2, Autumn 1980, pp 285 - 302.
Friesel, Evyatar, "Brandeis’s Role in American Zionism Reconsidered," in American Jewish History, Vol. 8, (ed.). J. Gurock (New York, 1998), pp. 92–117
Halpern, Ben, The Americanization of Zionism, 1880-1930, in American Jewish History, Vol 69, no 1, (September, 1979) pp 15-35.
Sarna, Joseph, "Louis D. Brandeis, Zionist Leader," Brandeis Reviews, Winter 1992.
Segev, Zohar, European Zionism in the United States: The Americanization of Herzl's Doctrine by American Zionist Leaders—Case Studies, Modern Judaism vol 26 no 3, 2006, pp. 274-291.
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