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Pekelis, Alexander Haim


PEKELIS, ALEXANDER HAIM (1902–1946), jurist and communal worker. Born in Odessa, Russia, Pekelis studied at various European universities. In 1932 he was appointed lecturer in jurisprudence at the University of Florence but the local Fascist party had him removed. He became professor of jurisprudence at the University of Rome in 1935 where he founded and edited a review, Il Massimario Della Corte Toscana. Pekelis left Italy following the enactment of the antisemitic laws in 1938 and settled in Paris where he practiced law. Just before the Nazi occupation of France in June 1940, Pekelis went with his wife and five children to Lisbon and in 1941 emigrated to the United States. He lectured at the New School for Social research in New York City and at the same time studied at the Columbia University Law School, where he was editor in chief of the Columbia Law Review. In 1945, he became chief consultant to the Commission on Law and Social Action of the American Jewish Congress, a post he held until his death in an airplane accident at Shannon, Ireland, while returning from an international Zionist conference as a representative of the Labor Zionist movement.

Pekelis made an important contribution to the struggle against antisemitism with the formulation of a bold new program for the American Jewish Congress entitled "Full Equality in a Free Society – A Program for Jewish Action." He drafted the bill, enacted two years after his death, which ultimately eliminated the numerus clausus in the medical schools of New York state. Pekelis contributed many articles urging a "jurisprudence of welfare," the submission of "private governments" to constitutional requirements, the establishment of a "Human Rights Agency" by the United Nations and an annual "Supreme Court Yearbook" which would critically examine that court's decisions. Many of his proposals were subsequently adopted.


M.R. Konvitz, ed., Law and Social Action: Selected Essays of Alexander H. Pekelis (1950).

[Will Maslow]

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