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Hofstra's new dean - & rabbi


For 30 prestigious generations, the men in Aaron Twerski's family became rabbis. But for his career, he chose the law.

But taking the literal sense of the word "rabbi" - it means teacher - he became a rabbi after all.

Since earning his law degree in 1965, Twerski has taught at Hofstra University School of Law and other law schools, including Harvard, Cornell and the University of Michigan.

On Tuesday, Twerski, 66, will officially become the new dean of Hofstra University School of Law, making him the first Hasidic Jew to be dean of an American law school.

"When I tried to get into the teaching profession, I faced pretty substantial discrimination," he said. "I was told quite directly that it was because of the way that I was dressed."

Judges, politicians, scholars and colleagues are expected to attend the convocation, which will include a keynote address by state Chief Judge Judith Kaye.

Twerski's goals for the law school include expanding programs in business litigation, family law and international law.

When Twerski began his career, lawmakers were just beginning to write some of today's seminal consumer protection laws. He is credited with helping to shape the legal landscape of product liability law.

Over his 40-year legal career, Twerski has become a national expert in tort law. His extensive writing about the topic include 60 law review articles, five books and a tome he co-wrote that has become the de facto guide used by courts and judges in product liability lawsuits.

"I've always had a love for tort law that may have been spurred by my background in Talmudic law," he said. "It's something that all of us come into contact on a daily basis.

"We've all had some issue of personal injury," he said.

Twerski said that how the legal system changes medical malpractice, bankruptcy, product liability and civil rights laws in coming years "will be the test of the humanity of our society."

A descendant of two influential rabbinical lines, Twerski also is ordained as a rabbi. He is the first man not to become a practicing rabbi and the first lawyer in his family.

An older, now deceased brother and Twerski's twin became rabbis, but younger brothers followed his nonconformity, choosing accounting and psychiatry.

Still, Twerski, who has children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren with his wife of 45 years, Kreindel, said his religious and Talmudic background is an ongoing influence on his legal career and his personal life.

Twerski also has become another kind of rabbi, acting as the unofficial ombudsman for his Borough Park Hasidic community. On a typical night, Twerksi counsels people at his home until 1 a.m. on everything from rental disputes to hospital billing errors to family legal issues.

"My friends joke about that, saying, 'You started off as a law professor and ended up as a rabbi,'" he said.

Despite his new post, Twerski will still spend time in the classroom, teaching one course a year. He'll also be busy with his commitments outside work, which include spots on the boards of Maimonides Hospital, Agudas Israel - which represents the interests of the U.S. Hasidic community - and Mishkon.

"I have a sign on my desk that says no," he said, "but it faces the other direction and it doesn't seem to do any good."