The Not So Strange Journey From the Law to Religion

Feb 4, 2018 by

By Sandy Kress –

I knew way back when. When I applied to law school, I knew it was the right pathway for the careers I intended to pursue. I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer, specializing in public law and policy. In a dream that came true, I ended up having a fantastic legal career in this area for more than 40 years.

I also knew that I wanted to engage in public sector service. And, happily, this too came to pass. I left one law firm to become deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. While at another firm, I served as president of the Dallas school board. I took a leave of absence from my third firm to serve as the senior education adviser to President George W. Bush in the White House. Throughout all this time, I served on numerous boards and commissions that helped shape major policies.

Here’s what I didn’t know way back when: my grounding in law and ethics would help prepare me for an unusual third career—writing and teaching on Jewish wisdom and sacred texts. I remember always being fascinated with Jewish ethics and reading considerably on religious topics. But, for the most part, it was all incidental to work.

Several years ago, though, a change began to brew. The “public sector side” of me took a turn. I recall shifting my interest from the world of politics to education reform because of what seemed a simple inspiration: if people were properly educated, generally, life would turn out well for them. But, if they weren’t, there was little the government could do to make up the deficit.

My new inspiration—perhaps nurtured by the times—was essentially this: if people had a proper ethical foundation, generally, life would turn out well for them. But, if they didn’t, there was little education could do to make up the deficit.

So, as my appetite for law practice diminished, my interest in the ethical roots of both law and faith grew. I started spending full days studying, voraciously reading and learning. I started writing. I replaced looking for clients and causes with looking for opportunities to teach. One thing led to another, and now I am teaching two or three times a week in churches, synagogues, study groups, and university settings.

I began to see ancient wisdom as remarkably relevant for us moderners. I got so carried away with this idea I developed a 37-week course for a church in Austin in which all 613 commandments of the Hebrew Bible became the basis for divine guidance for good living. Though thoroughly Christian, the class, I believe, found great value in the study.

Of all the sources I use in my teaching, the Talmud may interest me most. As a lawyer, I love the way it starts with the law but invites the student to go deeper to find the law’s underpinnings in ethics and justice, and, deeper still, in the mores by which communities and people can build good and spiritually strong lives.

A value I was taught early in law and politics was to try to bring people to mutually satisfactory common ground. This led me to help organize the Democratic Leadership Council and to help bring Bush and Senator Ted Kennedy together on education policy. Now, I go into classes in churches and synagogues teaching the common ground between Jesus’ teachings and the commandments in the Hebrew Bible.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, I would say. TBJ


Leah Teague

was appointed to the Education Commission of the States by Gov. George W. Bush and later chaired the Commission for a College Ready Texas. He served as a fellow at both the Bush Institute in Dallas and the Hunt Institute in North Carolina, where he worked on major national education reform initiatives. He currently teaches and writes about sacred texts.

Source: State Bar of Texas | Articles

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