Analysis

Jacob Weinroth, Netanyahu's Late Lawyer: A Polymath and a Model Advocate Who Loved People

Weinroth's death impoverishes the legal world and Israeli society as a whole. His support for minorities and the weak, his great legal talent and the contradictions in his personality made him a fascinating, astonishing individual

File photo: Attorney Jacob Weinroth in 2011.
Daniel Bar-On

The death of Jacob Weinroth is a debilitating event. It impoverishes the legal profession, the judicial system and Israeli society as a whole. The word “genius” has stuck to quite a few people through no fault of their own, but among those who knew him, no one would dispute that Weinroth was a real prodigy. Nor could this be doubted by anyone who worked with him and saw his ability to examine a factual or legal issue that seemed to have been battered and exhausted, and tease out a hidden, surprising, unexpected perspective that would be a tiebreaker. It would be the same for anyone who ever read one of his legal opinions or heard his lectures at the Tel Aviv University Law School or philosophy department.

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Weinroth was educated at top yeshivas and then went on to study law, graduating summa cum laude. He was both invested in the world of Torah and a true scholar in the fields of general studies; he knew how to extract the finest treasures from both Jewish and general culture.  Weinroth was a man of contrasts that made him a fascinating and extraordinary personality.

He was ultra-Orthodox through and through, serving as that community’s representative on various important state committees, like the Tal Commission that dealt with the conscription of yeshiva students and the Ivri Committee that deal with civilian service – and yet at the same time he was completely Israeli, deeply rooted in the Israeli experience and discourse. He was ultra-Orthodox and a liberal; a rationalist who was both sensitive and moving; a practitioner and a theorist.

Weinroth was a great advocate of suspect's and defendant's rights, because his sense of justice sought to give them a chance against the greater power of the state. He devoted his professional life to this struggle. He deeply believed in the right of every suspect and defendant to representation, regardless of his political outlook, sympathy for him, or belief in his innocence.

In his view, even those considered powerful, like top politicians, lose their power when they become suspects and defendants, and therefore they, too deserved excellent representation. He fought like a lion for his clients in both the legal and public arenas, as part of his total commitment to his role as their legal representative. He had empathy and an imagination that enabled him to put himself in his client’s place and feel his difficulties and mindset. And this was the case long before he himself was charged with criminal offenses of which he was acquitted.

At the same time, Weinroth had a rare critical-reflective ability with respect to his clients, himself, the legal profession and the legal system in general. As someone who lived and breathed the law, he was well-aware of the limitations of the legal system and of law as a discipline. As a result, preferring autonomy over coercion, he tended to try to end legal conflicts by agreement. For him, the confrontation, the determined struggle, was the last resort.

He had a finely honed sense of justice that led him to research agunot (women who cannot obtain a divorce) in his doctoral dissertation, exploring ways that are legitimate under Jewish law to impose a divorce that were adopted by rabbis and the legislature. He also had a special concern for the rights of minorities – the ultra-Orthodox minority to which he belonged, but also the Arab minority.

In the debate over whether law is a science or an art, Weinroth’s personality and professional path were drawn toward art. He was a master of the law, a scholar and a fighter, a model defense attorney who understood people and loved people. May his memory be blessed.