Joke Memo?

by Harry on November 25, 2010

Via Laura at 11D, a bizarre, and surely either fake or drunken, memo. Penelope Trunk says she has verified the (excellent if true) Kimba Woods side of this. But the original memo cannot be real, surely?



Sebastian (2) 11.25.10 at 6:46 pm

This was also on Goldberg’s blog at the Atlantic who also said he verified it.
Is this cutes” writing on part of a lawyer really so unbelievable? (or do you refer to the “only if it’s a boy” part, which I find sad but completely believable).


FuzzyFace 11.25.10 at 6:56 pm

Maybe the lawyer isn’t very religious and doesn’t realize that it is customary for the birth of a girl to be celebrated with a kiddush on a nearby Shabbos? The real difference is that the date selected for the kiddush is up to the parents, while the date of the bris is not.


Harry 11.25.10 at 6:59 pm

The “only if its a boy” bit. I can believe there are people who really do value boys more than girls. I find it hard to believe that there are people in our elites who are utterly unashamed to say so in a public document. Or maybe he was ashamed.


Gene O'Grady 11.25.10 at 7:00 pm

Based on what dad brought home from his twenty some years as a judge, this is completely plausible to me.

I admire lawyers and the legal profession (although with a certain nostalgia for some elements of the good old days), but there has always been a certain sort of lawyer with no damn sense. As Sid Feinberg, one of my dad’s early colleagues once said in response to something even more outrageous in his courtroom, “Sir, you’ve heard it said that the law is an ass. I just want you to know that in my court at least the law is not that much of an ass.”


Buce 11.25.10 at 7:29 pm

Harry, I think you may not know enough New York lawyers.


bianca steele 11.25.10 at 7:30 pm

Oh, I’m sure they just don’t want to attract the evil eye. (Oops, I wasn’t supposed to say that.)


yabonn_fr 11.25.10 at 7:35 pm

As I read it, the writer describes a situation, with humor adding quite some distance.

If it is the case, he’s not unashamed, but rather ironic – dare I say in these post-Alanis times.


Jeff 11.25.10 at 7:36 pm

It’s real. The sentiment is real, the lack of embarrassment is real, and it is a common — if gratefully unspoken– assumption throughout the country and across religions. I showed this to my 12 year old daughter (as she is preparing for her bat mitzvah). She need to know these turds are out there.


tomslee 11.25.10 at 7:45 pm

I read it the same way as yabonn_fr. My guess, knowing nothing, would be that Bennett Epstein knows Kimba Woods and is writing in a self-aware and self-deprecating tone about his obligations to his quaint relatives.


y81 11.25.10 at 9:02 pm

I’m with tomslee and yabonn. It’s certainly a recognizable subculture in New York City: cosmopolitan Jewish professionals who consider traditional Jewish rituals and the attitudes they embody to be ridiculous and politically incorrect, but follow them anyway. I’m not knowledgeable enough about Prof. Brighouse’s ethnic and religious background to suggest an apposite analogy, but I’m sure someone with more knowledge could.


Timothy Scriven 11.25.10 at 11:59 pm

You made my day.


Harry 11.26.10 at 2:42 am

I can read it that way, sure. I didn’t see the irony in the memo, but I can see it in the light of Kimba Woods response. Hope that’s right. I know no New York lawyers, but I think that’s enough, don’t you?


zamfir 11.26.10 at 7:17 am

Perhaps I am wrong, but isn’t the reason he might have to cancel the fixed-date circumcision of the potential boy, with the surrounding festivities? That would make the irony pretty clear.


LizardBreath 11.26.10 at 4:28 pm

It doesn’t seem implausible at all to me. The thing that makes it work is that there’s a strong norm of deference to the judge’s schedule for a trial — for a lawyer to be asking for to cancel days of an already scheduled trial isn’t unheard of, but it’s something you do with maximum deference and symbolic cringing. The letter is trying to get across that he has a serious family obligation that he has no control at all over the scheduling of, and so he’s asking for the absolute minimum adjustment of the judge’s schedule to accommodate it (I think the adorably cutesy footnoted Yiddishisms are to make the point that he and his family are really seriously Jewish). And if he’s Orthodox, or the family generally is anything but pretty secular, the bris is a fixed date obligation, while any celebration for a girl is both optional and reschedulable: that’s not his issue personally, that’s the religion.

So asking for the absolute minimum of rescheduling from the judge, which is a strong norm, meant asking for a specific day off for a boy, and being able to work around the judge’s schedule for a girl. This left him looking bad, and he probably would have been better advised not to raise the boy/girl issue, but I get it and it doesn’t mean that he’s particularly unenlightened personally.

I do love Judge Wood’s response, though: I think every lawyer on the east coast has been emailing it around. I’ve gotten about seven copies. (Back in 1994, before I went to law school, I was working as a receptionist for Time Inc., where Judge Wood’s ex worked, and I found myself in a rollerblading class with her. Helped teach her how to brake, and asked for law school advice. Haven’t met her since.)


ogmb 11.26.10 at 4:45 pm

If this were on Facebook, I’d “like” LizardBreath’s comment now.


ajay 11.26.10 at 4:56 pm

I’m a bit surprised that anyone could read that memo and interpret it either as a drunken outburst (drunken, with footnotes? Was he dictating while drunk?) or as an expression of unabashed sexism.


Salient 11.26.10 at 5:13 pm

If this were on Facebook, I’d “like” LizardBreath’s comment now.

Seconded. Surprisingly, I was only the fourth person to “like” Kimba Wood on Facebook. I thought it would be a more popular thing to do.


roac 11.26.10 at 5:35 pm

Agree with Lizardbreath. Also, unless this guy is so prominent as to be untouchable, he has to have a fairly close personal acquaintance with the judge to have written her a letter like that. I wouldn’t dare in a million years, even if I were free agent rather than a government lawyer.)

(Some may not remember, or may never have known, that Wood was one of Clinton’s picks for Attorney General who was shot down because of her undocumented housekeeper. Zoe Baird was the other. Janet Reno was a third-time-charm. She was named for a town in Australia, I forget why.)


R.Mutt 11.26.10 at 6:29 pm

This was also on Goldberg’s blog at the Atlantic who also said he verified it.

⇒ fake


Antti Nannimus 11.26.10 at 8:30 pm


This thread reminds me of a story. A fellow walks into a feminist bookstore and looks around for a few minutes. Confused, he finally goes to the information desk and asks the womyn behind the desk, “Where might I find the humor section?” “Sir,” she replies, “this is a feminist bookstore. There IS no humor section!”

Have a nice day,


Charles S 11.27.10 at 12:15 am


Witt 11.27.10 at 12:17 am

Further to Roac’s 18: Judge Wood has pointed out that she hired the housekeeper at a time when it was not legally required to check a household employee’s work permit. By the time the Clinton nomination came along, this point was glossed over as something of a technicality, but the fact remains that what she did was entirely legal under the laws of the time.


Harry 11.27.10 at 7:42 pm

Antti — great joke!


Warren Terra 11.27.10 at 8:21 pm

I’m not sure people are being fair to the letter writer: he’s asking for a court proceeding to be suspended (disrupting the schedules of several if not dozens of people, some of them quite important and highly paid) if his family obligations mean he will prefer not to be there. The family obligation for his presence on a specific date will only exist if the baby is a boy; this doesn’t mean his joy will be any less if it’s a girl, or that he values girls any less than boys – just that if it’s a girl he doesn’t have the same reason to ask all those people to reschedule. This may be obscured by the cutesy tone of his letter, but surely we can try to assume the best of him?


Mrs Tilton 11.28.10 at 12:47 am

Antti @20,

that particular bit of stereotyping works better when cast as a light-bulb joke.

And, yes, stereotype. Among the most wickedly funny people I know are feminists. Lesbian feminists, for all love. If you really think feminists obligate anti-humorists, I commend to your attention the song “I Spent My Last Ten Dollars (on Birth Control and Beer)” by Two Nice Girls.

The light-bulb joke is still pretty good, though.


Jim Aune 11.28.10 at 1:08 am

I don’t know if I’m the right person to do Judaism 101 for this group, but I feel compelled to point the following out (I’m an egalitarian Conservative Jew): There is a good reason to have different religious observances for Jewish men and women–Jewish women are presumed (rightly in my opinion) to be closer to the Almighty than men–and what better way than mark the bodily organ by which men most frequently, uh, fuck up? Before the invention of safe and reliable birth control, Jewish women were especially exempt from time-bound religious observances, so let’s not project back in time the expectations of upper-middle-class feminists, shall we?


Dan Simon 11.28.10 at 4:53 am

Harry, I can’t help wondering whether your very strong reaction to the memo might be related to your British Background. As I understand it, British/European negative stereotypes of Jews include a dimension of barbaric tribal primitivism–attributed to the absence of Christianity’s supposed civilizing influence–along with the standard “international cabal of evildoers” trope. (One thinks of Shylock wielding his knife in court, for instance, preparing to slaughter his Christian enemy in traditional sacrificial style.) To someone familiar with that stereotype, the lawyer’s memo might seem shockingly like an embrace and validation of it–sort of like a memo from an African-American explaining, only half-jokingly, that his family traditions include getting together to chuck spears and barbecue a couple of missionaries.

Americans, on the other hand, make no such associations about Jews. (Perhaps it’s that in the American bigot’s limited imagination, the “primitive barbarian” role is already filled by African-Americans. Or perhaps it’s because Americans tend to view the entire rest of the world–Jews no more than anyone else–as a collection of nativist tribes mired in their bizarre, primitive customs.) To an American, therefore, the memo’s wryly-condescending-but-sentimental description of Jewish customs is no different from the generic ethnic traditionalism portrayed in, say, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”–or, for that matter, “Fiddler on the Roof”. (The latter, incidentally, was based on the stories of Russian-Jewish author Salomon Rabinovitch, who used the pen-name Sholom Aleichem. He was an urban intellectual who was similarly wryly condescending towards the Shtetl bumpkins he brought to life in his writing.)

But perhaps I’m mistaken, and you’d have reacted similarly to a comparable memo from a lawyer belonging to any other culture (and there are a great many of them) with a strong sexist streak in its traditions and customs. Do you think that’s the case?


Joshua W. Burton 11.28.10 at 4:03 pm

The Mark Fass article cited by Charles S. puts a particularly nice Jewish flourish on the story. Bennett Epstein says he will, in the event of a simchat bat, take up Kimba Wood’s challenge in the most traditional way, by reciting Eishet Chayil (Proverbs 31:10-31) in open court — in, we hope, the original, as every observant Jewish family sings it around the table every Friday night.

Fond as we all are of Emily Dickinson, Carolyn Kizer, or Adrienne Rich, and uneven a writer as the Almighty can be . . . well, when He’s good, He’s incomparable. Lovers of feminist verse and skeptics of barbaric primitivism (both persons of woad and others), please note the page.


David 11.28.10 at 11:26 pm

Dan Simon – long post, many questions, answer to all of which is “no”.


ajay 11.29.10 at 11:22 am

I think it’s wonderful that the author of 27 links to his blog, “”.

You could indeed, Dan. You could indeed.


john b 11.29.10 at 12:33 pm

Holy fuck. Is Dan @27 the real Dan Simons, or a particularly well-observed maniac troll?


J.D. Rhoades 11.29.10 at 12:46 pm

I’ve been a trial lawyer for 21 years, and all I took from this was some good natured joshing between people who work together all the time in a high pressure environment. When things are working right, the respect flows both ways, to and from the bench.


ogmb 11.29.10 at 1:24 pm


ajay 11.29.10 at 2:18 pm

31: I’ve now read a bit of his blog, and I’m not quite grasping the distinction you’re trying to draw here.


David 11.29.10 at 2:24 pm

Feminism less funny in the US than in the US, apparently.


Harry 11.29.10 at 2:38 pm

Is that an accusation of anti-semitism, Dan? To be honest I have no familiarity with any english stereotypes of Jews except in Shakespeare and Dickens, and when we were taught Shakespeare in secondary school literally no-one had any idea what this was about, and that despite the fact that 1/5th of my classmates were second generation Polish Catholic immigrants. Of course, not being off the top shelf may account for it. I may well have negative stereotypes of lawyers, mark you. Certainly, I’d have responded similarly to someone from any culture writing such a thing — the one tweak being that if it had been written by an English lawyer I would have had a much harder time seeing the irony that others here have persuaded me is probably there.

Btw, whereas the only hints of anti-semitism I directly encountered while in England were from a small number of very posh kids in my college, I have noticed it a lot here, but then I have lived here far more of my adulthood.


Henri Vieuxtemps 11.29.10 at 2:55 pm

What, nobody is going to mention Keyrock, the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer?


JD Rhoades 11.29.10 at 4:20 pm

Henri @37: I swear, one of these days I’m going to snap and do that in front of a jury.

Oh, and some of the funniest people I know are feminists. Also some of the most humorless.


Dan Simon 11.29.10 at 7:15 pm

Harry, I certainly had no intention of suggesting that you are in any way anti-Semitic–in fact, I took great pains to word my comment so as to eliminate all conceivable traces of imputation of anti-Semitism to you. (I suppose I should consider it a success of sorts, given my past experiences with this blog, that you only asked if I was accusing you of anti-Semitism, rather than assuming my guilt and banning me on the spot…)

Rather, I was sincerely trying to guess the answer to a puzzling question: why something that I and several other commenters–and, I would have thought, most people even mildly familiar with Americans’ ambivalent attitudes towards their various ethnic traditions–found self-evidently ironic, you found to be shocking in its apparent sincerity. It was an honest guess, and I’m perfectly comfortable pronouncing it mistaken. From the sound of it, you’re simply unfamiliar with Jewish customs, and therefore took the memo writer’s ironic gloss on what (he assumed) “everyone knows” about the distinct Jewish traditions regarding male and female babies, as straightforward exposition. Does that sound closer to the mark?


Jack 11.30.10 at 2:02 am

Those not lawyers, jewish or otherwise connected look at this and see ‘elitist’. Any wonder why Kimba Woods is not on the Supreme Court?

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