Noah Feldman grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, where he attended the Maimonides School. He graduated from Harvard College in 1992 and earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, where he earned a D.Phil in Islamic Thought in 1994. Upon his return from Oxford, he received his J.D., in 1997, from Yale Law School, where he was the book review editor of the Yale Law Journal. He later served as a law clerk for Associate Justice David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2001, he joined the faculty of New York University Law School (NYU), leaving for Harvard in 2007.
He worked as an advisor in the early days of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq following the 2003 invasion of the country. While his initial work, under Jay Garner, was unfocused, he was authorized, under Paul Bremer's transitional team to help formulate the country's new constitution. His advisory role, however, ended abruptly, and whether he quit or was fired has never been made clear.
Feldman is occasionally mentioned as a potential future U.S. Supreme Court nominee.
As an academic and public intellectual, Feldman is concerned with issues at the intersection of religion and politics. In the United States, this has a bearing on First Amendment questions of church and state and the role of religion both in government and in private life. Feldman's other area of specialty is Islam. In Iraq, the same reasoning leads him to support the creation of a democracy with Islamist elements. This last position has been lauded by some as a pragmatic and sensitive solution to the problems inherent in the creation of a new Iraqi government; others have taken exception to the same idea, however, characterizing Feldman's views as simplistic and shortsighted.
An excerpt from Feldman's 2008 book, The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine and was attacked by Leon Wieseltier for "promoting" Islamic law as a "swell basis" for a political order. This, according to Wieseltier, amounts to "shilling for soft theocracy" and is hypocritical since Wieseltier presumes that neither he nor Feldman would actually choose to rear their own children in such a system. Saïd Amir Arjomand has called Feldman's work, the "worst example of Orientalism." . In a review in The Jerusalem Post entitled: "The fall of Noah Feldman", Jonathan Schanzer writes: "Determined to prove that Islamic law (Shari'a) is compatible with democracy, Harvard law professor Noah Feldman is still laboring to fit a square peg into a round hole".
In a New York Times Magazine article entitled "Orthodox Paradox," Feldman recounted his experiences of the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion of the Modern Orthodox Jewish community in which he was raised, specifically at his high school alma mater, the Maimonides School. Feldman contended that his choice to marry a non-Jew led to an instance of ostracization by the school, in which he and his then girlfriend were allegedly air-brushed out of the 1998 photograph of his class reunion. Feldman's marriage to a non-Jew is contrary to Jewish religious law, although he and his family had in the past been very active members of the Harvard Hillel Orthodox Minian. Some accused Feldman of misrepresenting a fundamental fact in the story, namely whether he was purposefully cropped out of the picture. Feldman's supporters noted that Feldman's claim in the article was that he and his girlfriend were "nowhere to be found" and not that they were cropped or deleted out of the photo. Yet others view this claim by Feldman's supporters as disingenuous, noting that elsewhere Feldman had publicly encouraged the suggestion of air-brushing. Leon Wieseltier, no admirer of Orthodox Judaism, attacked Feldman for the dishonesty of "exposing the depredations" of Orthodox Jewish law while praising sharia as "bold and noble, and called Feldman's essay a "bathetic whine."
His critique of Modern Orthodox Judaism has been commented on by many, including Hillel Halkin, columnist for the New York Sun; Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor of the New Jersey Jewish News; Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union; Rabbi Shalom Carmy, tenured professor of Jewish philosophy at Yeshiva University; Rabbi Norman Lamm, chancellor of Yeshiva University; Gilah Kletenik, editor of Yeshiva University's thought magazine, Kol Hamevaser; Rabbi Shmuley Boteach; Gary Rosenblatt, editor of Jewish Week, the editorial board of the Jewish Press; Rabbi Ozer Glickman, a Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University; Ami Eden, Executive Editor of The Forward; Rabbi David M. Feldman, author of Where There's Life, There's Life; and Jonathan Rosenblum, columnist for the Jerusalem Post. In addition, the American Thinker published responses by Ralph M. Lieberman, Richard Baehr, and Thomas Lifson.
Feldman also argued pro bono in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals against the efforts of a Jewish group in Tenafly, New Jersey, the Tenafly Eruv Association, to erect an eruv. In Jewish Law, there is an idea that if even a single Jew objects to the eruv, then the eruv is not valid. Thus, Feldman's public denouncement of the eruv made the construction of the eruv a bit more problematic according to Jewish Law. However, his arguments were rejected in 2003 and the eruv was, in fact, permitted.
Feldman's work on the Iraqi constitution was controversial at the time, and some, including Edward Said, felt he was not experienced enough with the country to undertake such a task.
Feldman was given the Most Beautiful Brainiac award from New York Magazine, and the magazine also named him as one of "the influentials" in ideas, alongside Jeffrey Sachs, Saul Kripke, Richard Neuhaus, and Brian Greene.
In 2008, he was among the names topping Esquire magazine's list of the "most influential people of the 21st century". The magazine called him "a public intellectual of our time".
Born into an Orthodox Jewish family, the son of Dr. Roy E. Feldman and Dr. Penny Hollander Feldman, Noah Feldman is married to Jeannie Suk, an assistant professor of law at Harvard. They have two children.
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