A Jewish Look at Lawyering Ethics

Document Type


Publication Date

January 1998


By practicing law, Jewish attorneys can promote many important Jewish values. For example, they can defend people from physical, financial or psychological oppression, they can protect children in family disputes, and they can advance communal interests by representing organizations committed to Jewish priorities. Nevertheless, secular lawyering involves a number of significant, dangerous pitfalls. For example, Jewish law values powerfully militate against the acceptance of certain matters or the use of specific strategies or conventions. Among other things, Jewish law opposes actions that unfairly harm third parties, that cast the Jewish faith in a falsely unflattering light, or that, because of the actions' spiritually corrosive character, eat away at the attorney's intrinsic holiness. Moreover, Jewish law affirmatively requires an attorney to take some steps that, although morally correct, may be inconsistent with secular regulations.This article provides a framework for exploring two chief concerns associated with the practice of civil law, i.e., the extent to which Jewish law discourages an attorney from assisting the accomplishment of particular ends, and, irrespective of the ends, from employing particular means. The article does this by identifying and explicating the principally relevant Jewish law doctrines, including the rules against (1) enabling or even facilitating the violation of Jewish law; (2) inflicting verbal or emotional distress or shame; and (3) lying, and the rule requiring one to act to protect another from victimization.