Harlot vs. Harlot

Dahlia Lithwick’s story about the kid version of criminal intent reminded me of my evidence teacher’s first lesson in how to conduct proper legal analysis. I have to preface the story by saying that law school courses sent out the syllabus before the start of classes. Students were expected to attend the first class having read the first fifty or so pages of the assignment. (Bear in mind that the full course load was five classes, which met five day per week, requiring 250 pages of reading per day.)

Anyway, Professor Levin(e?) started class by saying he was sure we all remembered the case of Harlot vs. Harlot. He paused for effect as a few eager beavers started paging through the textbook. Then he said, “No, no. You won’t find it the book. It’s in the Bible.”

He proceeded to describe Solomon’s decision to cut a baby in half as a way to resolve the dispute between two putative mothers. Even though I knew the story, I’d never heard the women described as harlots. The handful of women in the class were furious, but when I finally got around to looking up the reference, the Revised Standard version does indeed refer to them as harlots. It didn’t dawn on me until later that the professor had, aside from his sexist remark, made the huge assumption that everyone in the class was either Jewish or Christian and came from families that read the Bible.

Anyway, he made his point – that the woman who said she was willing to give up the child might or might not have been the birth mother, but her reaction was evidence that she would be the better mother.

Even though his example infuriated us, the lesson stuck. If the rest of law school had sent me into collateral sources the same way and stimulated extra-legal discussion as this class did, I might still be practicing. (But I doubt it.)

As for Lithwick’s “kid law,” I hope she gets enough suggestions to create a textbook. My own suggestion: Kid family law: a child’s sense of time is now. Soon and later don’t cut it.


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