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Alan Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School. In addition to his teaching, Dershowitz is a prolific author who makes frequent media and public[…]

A Jewish boy with the head of Webster and a head of clay.

Question: Who are you? 

Alan Dershowitz: I’m the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School where I’ve been teaching for 43 years.

Larry Summers and I had a contest for who got tenure youngest. I had been the youngest professor to get tenure at Harvard, and then he beat me by three months when he got tenure.

Question: Where are you from and how has that shaped you?

Alan Dershowitz: I grew up in a frightened community. I was born on the eve of the Holocaust in 1938. When my brother was born, my mother kept saying she didn’t know whether she would have him in some bunker or in the basement somewhere. We were all terrified of war, and we were all terrified of what was happening to the Jewish community.

It was a powerless community at the time. Hard to imagine today, but no influence in Congress. No influence really in any aspect of politics. It was a community that really felt that they were guests in somebody else’s country. They were second-class citizens. They were tolerated at best and they’d better behave. And it was a community of people who were very patriotic, quite conservative in their outlook toward many things.

People sometimes stereotype the Jewish community as being a very radical community, and there aren’t many secular Jews who were radical during that period of time; some Communist, some Socialist; but in the Orthodox community that I grew up in, quite conservative, quite patriotic, and frightened is the word, I think, I would use more than any other.

The message I constantly got from my parents and grandparents was, “Shush. Still. Be quiet. Be quiet. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t do anything. Don’t make your hosts – the real Americans – mad at you. Whatever you do, do quietly.”

Obviously it didn’t take with me and I reacted, I think, to that.


Recorded On: June 12, 2007