Friday, June 11, 2010

A Mitzvah: What Is It That Motivated A Federal Judge To Write This Book? Part I

On detecting creativity in a federal judge:

Judge Jon Newman's letter to me:

Genealogical Chart of Greek Mythology by Harold Newman and his son, Judge Jon O. Newman, former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The New York Times ran a glowing front page story on this work, with almost a page more inside. Having received my copy, it is easy to see why. The book is beautifully produced. A sturdy orange and black hardcover protects 263 pages, each 16 inches long by 10 and a half inches high. This is a big book. The work was begun in 1964 by Harold Newman, a well-known and highly regarded attorney in Connecticut who died in 1993 at the age of 93. His son, Jon O. Newman, then took the book up and finished in it 2002. Jon Newman is one of the greatest jurists of our times, serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. His reputation for brilliance and attention to detail are legendary, and are well-reflected in this work. Given that Judge Newman's father hand-lettered the copious charts on large cardboard sheets, the statement in the Preface that "appropriately for a work of genealogy, this has been a father-son project" hits the mark.

But why would a busy, towering figure in law complete a genealogical chart on Greek mythological figures? One answer is that it was a great mitzvah for a son to complete a work his father spent almost 30 years on. A second answer is tradition; in circles of Jewish learning (a circle which certainly includes Judge Newman), there is a Hebrew saying "Lomdei Toratecha Lishmah," loosely translated as "the study of Torah for Torah's sake." One learns because it is one's obligation to. The subject of study may vary, but the obligation is always there. A Genealogical Chart of Greek Mythology is an exemplary work of Lomdei Toratecha Lishmah. Only a love of learning could lead to a work so thorough and beautifully presented. But there is a third reason, and one that should commend others to purchase the book. It is a really useful book, for serious and amateur students of Greek mythology, and for crossword puzzle fanatics, such as my wife. One need never miss a question about Greek mythology again.

In an age when books have become a corporate commodity, A Genealogical Chart of Greek Mythology reminds of what it was once like, when great scholars labored for love and we the public could soak in that both the love and the learning they poured into their books. It was a mitzvah for Judge Newman to complete the work and it is a mitzvah for the rest of us to buy it support future projects (and five stars for the University of North Carolina Press for undertaking and publishing it): besides, you'll have a great time with it.


Gary Freedman said...

The U.S. Marshal Service asked me in a taped interview on Friday January 15, 2010: "What is it that motivated you to write a blog?"

Gary Freedman said...

I'm not religious, but the idea of calling the act of writing a book about pagan gods a mitzvah is a little too much for me.

Gary Freedman said...

Daphne was a figure in Greek myth. See the post "The Greatness of Strauss."