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Faculty Profile: Roberta Kwall

Roberta Kwall
Roberta Kwall is the Raymond P. Niro Professor of Intellectual Property Law; teaches Family Law, Property Law and Intellectual Property (IP) Law; and is the founder of the Center for Intellectual Property Law & Information Technology (CIPLIT®) and co-founder of the Center for Jewish Law & Judaic Studies.  Her latest book, Remix Judaism: Preserving Traditions in a Diverse World, was published by Rowman and Littlefield in February 2020.

Q. What brought you to DePaul? 

I went straight from college to law school, so there was nothing specifically career-wise that I did prior to law. I love to write. I loved being a journalist in high school.  I wanted to teach, and law seemed like the most efficient route to teaching. My husband and I met in law school and married right after he graduated. We moved to Chicago, because it had a lot of law schools, and I ended up getting a job offer from DePaul, which had a good reputation.

When I first came to DePaul, I really wanted to teach IP law, but the dean said, 'You can teach IP, but we really need you for Property.' It's funny, because now IP is such an important part of Property Law, but back then it was all about real estate, so I taught two sections of Property Law and a seminar on Copyrights and Trademarks. Over time, I taught Patent Law, Women and Jewish Law (which led me to Family Law), and Authors Rights (such as Moral Rights and the Right of Publicity).  Over time, my research began to be focused on cultural analysis of law generally and specifically Jewish law and culture.  

 I think I was drawn to those topics, because I've always been spiritual, and there's an element of spirituality that pervades the inquiry of one's personal interests. What motivates people to create? Why should their interests be protected when they create something? I was far more drawn to “human-based" areas of law than what I saw as cut-and-dry areas.

 Q. What are some of your most notable accomplishments since joining DePaul?

Two that relate directly to DePaul Law are the founding of the Center for Intellectual Property Law & Information Technology (CIPLIT®) and the co-founding of the Center for Jewish Law & Judaic Studies. CIPLIT® transformed not just IP at DePaul, but how we do business at DePaul. We had a couple of centers before that, but I believe it was CIPLIT® that put the whole notion of centers and institutes on the map. The Center for Jewish Law & Judaic Studies also has been good for DePaul and has given the school some nice press.

I'm grateful that in Jewish Law, an area that is largely male dominated, I've been able to come from a background that isn't from inside Jewish studies but from inside law and become a respected scholar.

On a personal level, I'm really proud of the fact that I've been able to—with my amazing husband, of course—raise three daughters and work the whole time and be a really successful academic. That is not an insignificant accomplishment while being an observant Jew.

Q. Do you have any advice for law students?

Going back to the decades I spent writing about the rights of authorship and moral rights, I would say, “You are the authors of your careers." As such, you need to be proactive. You need to have a plan. You need to be thoughtful. You need to act with integrity. That's so important, because I'm a very big believer in pay it forward.  If you behave a certain way professionally, not only does that set an example for others, but I also believe that it will reflect back on you. We always have opportunities in life to do things for other people, and that's part of how you author your career. It's not just about what you want to accomplish. It's how can I be a good colleague?  How can I be a good law school classmate? How can I be a good associate? It's a multifaceted inquiry.

Q. How did you get into Remixed Judaism?

Remixed Judaism started through my cultural analysis work on Jewish law. My last book, The Myth of the Cultural Jew, was about how Jewish law and Jewish culture is completely intertwined. There really is no such thing as a 'cultural Jew,' because even people that are self-denominated 'cultural Jews' are still doing certain things that are based in Jewish law, such as hosting a Passover Seder or lighting a Hanukkah menorah.

When I finished The Myth of the Cultural Jew, I knew I wanted to do a book that was more directed toward a popular audience, and Remixed Judaism: Preserving Traditions in a Diverse World is the practical application of The Myth of the Cultural Jew. I wanted to write a book that would be generally accessible and user friendly to a wide variety of Jews. The book has been endorsed by Jewish people from all denominations, from Orthodox to reconstructionist. People are saying great things about the book, which makes me feel good, because this was written to be a book that you can pick up no matter your level of knowledge or observance, or even your religion, and get something out of it.

Q. What are some of the more interesting things you discovered while researching?

One of the most interesting and global–though not surprising–things I discovered was the level of fluidity in the American Jewish community. It's often supposed that people are either observant or they're not, but that's not entirely true. According to a recent study from the American Enterprise Institute, there is a decline of [all] religion in the American family, but spirituality and meaning to life are still prized qualities, so people are in this bifurcated space.

Many people are practicing that way, but my argument is—what about transmission? It certainly is a challenge to preserve tradition in a diverse world (the subtitle of my book). How do you transmit this to the next generation if that's one of your goals? What does 'raising my kids Jewish' mean in an increasingly secular society where Judaism is a cultural, religious minority? It's difficult to do unless people are really mindful and thoughtful about how to do it. And, that's what my book addresses—how you can think about it in a way that can help you succeed to transmit a love of the tradition down the line.

Q. What do you want people to get out of this book?

I want people to understand that Jewish tradition, no matter what your level of observance is, no matter whether you believe in God or not (a concept that's fluid too), there's a lot of gray in those spaces. I want people to know that whatever their faith is and whatever their background is and whatever their observance is, Jewish tradition can add something to their lives. And, I hope that when people read this book, and particularly people who may not be as knowledgeable, they'll say, “Oh my gosh, yeah, there really is something here that can give meaning to my life."