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God’s Name in the Presidential Oath: “The Heart of a King is in the Hand of Hashem”

President Obama took the oath of office for his second term this week, and like many chief executives before him, he ended his oath with the words “So help me God.” Behind those words lies a longstanding tradition, but also a contemporary controversy. More importantly, though, they serve as a reminder to all Who is really in control.

Invoking God’s Name in the Presidential Oath of Office

The U.S. Constitution, Art. II § 1, states that before the President takes office he must take the following oath:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Nowhere does the Constitution require the mention of God’s name in an oath.(1) However, legend has it that George Washington used the phrase after his inaugural oath, and it was contemporaneously documented as used in the oaths of many presidents since Abraham Lincoln.

The last time Barack Obama was sworn in as President, a group of atheists sued to prevent the Chief Justice John Roberts from prompting the President with the words “So help me God.” The plaintiffs conceded that the President himself has a First Amendment right to use the phrase, but they argued that it is unconstitutional for the Chief Justice to prompt the President with those words. See Newdow v. Roberts, 603 F.3d 1002 (dismissed for mootness and lack of standing). 

A Reminder to Us All

To those who learn and follow God’s will, manifested in the Torah, it is encouraging to see the leader of one of the most powerful nations invoke His name when he takes the oath of office. But it also must remind us that as much as it appears that the President alone is making important executive decisions, it is really the Almighty who is in control. Continue reading

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The Causes of Gun Violence: It’s Up for Debate

New York became the first state to take legislative action in response to last month’s tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School when it enacted reforms to its gun laws this week. Among the provisions of the new law are tighter restrictions on “assault weapons” and “high capacity magazines.”

However, the law addresses not only firearms themselves, but also the people that use them. For instance, it will require background checks for buyers of ammunition. Additionally, in one of its more controversial parts, the new law requires mental health providers to report patients to criminal justice authorities when the mental health professionals believe that the patients are likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to themselves or others. The authorities can then determine whether or not to revoke the patient’s gun license.

New York’s new law is designed to prevent the horrible results of gun violence, but it also highlights the difficulty in identifying and defining its underlying causes. Recognizing that America is currently struggling to find an answer to an increase in gun violence, President Obama revealed this week his strategies for reducing gun violence and announced that he would immediately sign twenty-three executive orders concerning firearms, including a directive to the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.

There are numerous opinions as to the causes of gun violence. Continue reading

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Court Addresses Anti-Semitic Discrimination on Eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day

Last week on April 18th, while Israel began its observance of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), a New Jersey court addressed anti-Semitic discrimination in the workplace in the case of Cowher v. Carson & Roberts. The law at issue, New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et seq., was originally enacted in 1945––the year that saw the end of the Holocaust––to “eradicate the cancer of discrimination.”(1)  This case of harassment, though, is somewhat unique.

Myron Cowher was a truck driver in New Jersey. For over a year, two of Cowher’s supervisors continually uttered slurs about Jews, directed at him. After he stopped working at the company due to disability, Cowher sued under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (LAD).

The problem: Myron Cowher is not Jewish.  Continue reading

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Agudath Israel of America Pro Bono Attorney Training Session

Please click here to view invitation.

Reality, Legality and Morality

A Custody Case Primer for Pro Bono Attorneys,

Steven Z. Mostofsky, Esq.


Offices of Allen & Overy LLP
1221 Avenue of the Americas
New York, New York

To RSVP, or for more information, please contact Mrs. Chava Shulman at (212) 797-9000, ext. 335, or send an email to

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Sukkahs in Public Parks

With the holiday of Sukkos approaching, many are thinking about how and where they will build their temporary dwellings this year. Most are very familiar with the halachic requirements for constructing a valid sukkah. For others, though, questions of American law also arise. For instance, Rabbi Zalman Paris of the Chabad of TriBeCa would like to put a sukkah in a small public park…

“But a request for a display in a public space raises difficult questions. Is the sukkah merely a cultural symbol, or is it unmistakably religious in character? Does the government endorse its religious significance by allowing it to occupy a big chunk of a park when symbols of other faiths are not represented?”

Read more from the New York Times

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Welcome To The Blog!

Welcome to the Jewish and American Law Blog of This blog is accessible at, or through a link on any of the pages. Also, for now, the blog can still be found at

I hope everyone continues to enjoy and learn from the posts. As always, feel free to comment on any of them, or contact me with any ideas or suggestions.

— Evan (Chaim) Kusnitz

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Welcome to American and Jewish Law! The goal of this site is to stand at the crossroads of Halacha (Jewish law) and American law, and to see how the concepts of each legal system are treated in the other. Please feel free to comment on, question and critique my posts. For more information about this site and about me, please see the About page.

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