Professor Aaron Twerski is a master of torts, and even decades later, his students still remember his axioms and colorful lessons in law. Perhaps lesser known is how much faith and family has inspired the beloved Brooklyn Law School professor to help students, clients, and the community—whenever, wherever he is needed.
By Nanette Maxim
Portrait by Todd France
GROWING UP IN THE CLOSE-KNIT ORTHODOX JEWISH COMMUNITY OF MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN, where his father was the chief rabbi, Aaron Twerski learned that his family’s home was never closed to anyone who needed help.

“My father came to Milwaukee from Russia in 1927,” said Twerski, the Irwin and Jill Cohen Professor of Law. “He had infinite love and compassion for people, and they were drawn to him. And so he built a community. My parents’ door was open to everyone from five o’clock in the morning till five o’clock the next morning… and the next. They had ancestors who were outstanding Jewish leaders in Russia and Poland, and they were raised to live for others. It motivated their lives. It was the air that we breathed.”

This spirit of community was the foundation not only for Twerski’s own deep faith and compassion but also for his strong commitment to the field of tort law, for which he has been a powerful voice as a respected lawyer, professor, and scholar for more than 50 years. His attraction to the field as a student was almost instantaneous, when he realized that the often quotidian matters that tort law addresses meant much more than they seemed to mean at first.

“In torts, we take everyday, common affairs and turn them into important law questions both for the individual and for society,” Twerski said. “Within three weeks of studying torts at law school, I knew I wanted to be a professor and teach torts. I was like a fish in the water.”

L–R: At a 2010 Law School event, Professor Twerski is joined by Michael London ’97 and current Board of Trustees Chair Frank Aquila ’83. Below, his accomplishments were celebrated at a 2023 Brooklyn Law symposium.
Professor Twerski, Michael  London, and Frank Aquila smiling side by side for photo
Aaron Twerski at 2023 Brooklyn Law symposium
Twerski’s countless contributions to the Law School (which he initially joined in 1986) and the academy were celebrated in April at the Brooklyn Journal of Corporate, Financial & Commercial Law Annual Symposium, Professor Aaron Twerski and the Law of Torts: Duty, Design, and Conflicts.*

The symposium brought together scholars from around the country to honor Twerski through the presentation of papers that explored duty, product liability, mass torts, immunity, and conflicts of law, and discussions in which they shared their thoughts on his importance to their own lives and work.

“He is a lion of our faculty and of his field,” said Professor Michael Cahill, who was president and Joseph Crea Dean at the time of the symposium. “He has been and done everything that one can over the course of his distinguished and illustrious career.”

That career began in the mid-1960s, when, after graduating from Marquette University Law School, Twerski joined the U.S. Department of Justice as a trial attorney at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. He brought the first Title VII employment discrimination case in Virginia, and one of the first public accommodation cases in South Carolina.

“Those were heady days,” Twerski said. “We had a lot of responsibility. And I would travel down South to take depositions in areas where they didn’t like the lawyers from the North, and they had never seen a Jew before.”

The experience of being viewed as an outsider was, sadly, not a singular one. In 1967, Twerski went on to excel as a teaching fellow at Harvard Law School. Yet, despite receiving the highest recommendation from Harvard, he, unlike his fellow colleagues, received no offers to join a university faculty. “The head of the teaching fellows program said, ‘You’re not getting offers because they will not hire someone who looks like you,’” Twerski said. “I was shattered.”

“Within three weeks of studying torts at law school, I knew I wanted to be a professor and teach torts. I was like a fish in the water.”
Months later, however, Duquesne University, a Jesuit school like his alma mater Marquette, phoned to invite him to fill a position. “It’s where my teaching career started,” Twerski said. “But it almost didn’t happen.”

In 2019, in accepting Marquette’s Lifetime Achievement Award, he said, “Marquette is extraordinarily hospitable. The school was based on an orthodox religious faith, and they understood not only my appearance and the rest, but that if there was a religious demand made on me, it came first.”

Twerski Effect

At the Twerski symposium, Brooklyn Law School alumna Hon. Claire R. Kelly ’93, a United States Court of International Trade judge, relayed that she was “an expert witness” on Twerski’s teaching style and shared an anecdote.

“Once you take one Twerski class, you tend to sign up for them all,” Kelly said. “As a first-year student, to have him as a torts professor was nothing short of magical. And in case you think I am exaggerating, I will tell you a true story. A classmate of mine once brought a date to Professor Twerski’s class and she wasn’t even a law student or a lawyer. But his class was so good that his pedagogical skills were something that someone chose to use to impress the object of his affection.”

After we posted on social media about the symposium, alumni responded with their own memories of Twerski and his influence on their careers. Here are just a few among the dozens of tributes:

“In many decisions from the bench, I have repeated some of the axioms that…Professor Twerski taught me during law school.”

Hon. Brian P. Stern ’91,
Associate Justice,
Rhode Island Superior Court
“His teaching transcended legal education. His methodology for issue identification and reasoning is something I use to this day.”

Dominic Morandi ’91,
Vice President,
Chicago Title Insurance Co.
“I can still hear so many of his lessons in my head… Especially the butterfly test! Thank you, Professor… You have made a lasting impact on so many of us.”

Elizabeth Werner ’96,
Senior Director, Brand Partnerships, Lifestyle Expert,

Note: In the butterfly test, Twerski said, “I would tell students that in order for a judge to decide certain issues, he/she had to get butterflies in the stomach before making the decision. In other words, the judge had to feel very uncomfortable about making the decision.”

“Professor Twerski lit my passion for complex torts. His ‘in-and-out-of-the-fog’ metaphor will echo through my mind until my final day. [It] showed me how to navigate the legal writing process with confidence and enthusiasm to get to the bottom of the day’s mystery.”

Katherine E. Mayo ’13,
Senior Associate,
Locks Law Firm
“Professor Twerski was and remains a legend and the epitome of what an educator should be. I am quite convinced that any success I may have enjoyed professionally [comes] in large part from learning from this elite professor.”

Mark Kornfeld ’92,
Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney
Twerski went on to teach at Hofstra University School of Law (where he also served as dean from 2005 to 2007), playing a crucial role in several landmark legal cases at the same time. Among them was litigation concerning the effects of the herbicide Agent Orange, as a member of the Law Committee (1979–84). He represented the plaintiffs, Vietnam War veterans and their families, who had brought a suit against the deep-pocketed defendants, the U.S. government and seven major chemical companies, despite having little money for legal assistance.

Twerski was a special master in the federal case involving more than 10,000 plaintiffs who suffered adverse health effects after being involved in the cleanup of the World Trade Center following the 9/11 terrorist attacks ). Twerski and his colleague created a database of 9/11 victims and the severity of their injuries that served as a model for the current case concerning exposure to tainted water at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C.

Twerski standing next to seated student with book open
Revered for his depth of knowledge, clear presentation, compassion, and humor, Twerski, shown here in the classroom, says teaching is his great love. When his students begin to put together all he’s taught them, he said, “it’s exhilarating for the students and exhilarating for the professor.”
Twerski in front of classroom auditorium
While simultaneously teaching at Brooklyn Law School, Twerski labored for six years as co-reporter of the Restatement of Torts, Third: Products Liability (American Law Institute [ALI], 1998), with his longtime colleague on scholarly articles, James Henderson of Cornell Law School.

That distinguished work led to Twerski being awarded the ALI’s prestigious designation of R. Ammi Cutter Reporter. His numerous law review articles and casebooks have covered the landscape of tort law and product liability—from examining the principles of the law of informed consent to the liability of digital platforms such as Amazon as product sellers. His contributions have been noted for their combination of wisdom, pragmatism, and prudent and principled sense of justice. In 2016, he was given the William L. Prosser Award by the Torts Section of the Association of American Law Schools for his outstanding contributions to the field.

Among Twerski’s vast scholarly endeavors, it is teaching that he says is his great love. That love is echoed by his students’ affection for his teaching (see “The Twerski Effect,” p. 33).

“I love the first-year class,” he said. “The students can come in knowing nothing, and by the time they’re finished with the first-year torts course they have been transformed. They learn to be critical thinkers. They learn to question. They ask me, ‘Is this case wrong?’ And I say, in the words of my former teacher Rabbi Nachum Sacks, ‘You’re 100 percent right, but I’ll show you where you’re wrong. I’m going to critique it so that you can decide whether it is right or wrong. But you have to pay attention to the critique and analyze the case with that in mind.’ That’s what I’ve done, and I think students appreciate it. They see their own progress, which is enormous. And when they finally are preparing for exams, they put it all together. It’s an exhilarating experience for students and exhilarating for the professor.”

On any given day, amid his classes and appointments and research, you’ll likely find Twerski on the phone or on Zoom or meeting in person with someone in his community who’s seeking advice—legal, personal, or something in between. As was the case for his parents and his siblings, including the late Dr. Abraham Twerski, a renowned psychiatrist and rabbi who did remarkable work with people facing addiction, and his twin brother, Michel, now the rabbi of the synagogue their father founded, Twerski’s door is always open.

*The symposium papers will be published this fall in a “Festschrift” volume of the Brooklyn Journal of Corporate, Financial & Commercial Law.