Burton Caine, 95, of Bala Cynwyd, law professor emeritus at Temple University, longtime litigation and antitrust lawyer, former president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Greater Philadelphia, Hebrew scholar, prolific writer, peaceful protester, and veteran, died Thursday, Dec. 7, of aspiration pneumonia at Lankenau Medical Center.
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A lifelong intellectual and social activist, Professor Caine traveled the world for decades, lecturing and advising politicians, religious and business leaders, judges, students, and others about constitutional law, civil rights, the First Amendment, antitrust, and paths to peace. He taught law students at Temple from 1977 to 2018 and instructed classes abroad in Japan, China, and Israel.
Over the arc of his 66-year career, he discussed civil liberties with Communist Party leaders and debated the death penalty on national TV in China. He went to the Soviet Union twice to support political dissidents and assembled diplomats and others at symposia in the United States to address peace in the Middle East.
He marched against the Vietnam War and later represented efforts to remove the Ten Commandments from government buildings and grounds. In 1987, he advised the legislature of the Philippines as it crafted the nation’s new constitution.
“He was an activist who always stood up for what was right, and, through his actions, taught me to do the same,” said his daughter Sara Caine Kornfeld.
As a lawyer, Professor Caine defended disadvantaged soldiers in Georgia and Alabama for the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General Corps in the 1950s. He handled litigation and antitrust cases in the 1960s and ‘70s for the law firm Wolf, Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen, and he successfully sued the city in 1979 as general counsel for the ACLU when Mayor Frank Rizzo wanted to violate the separation of church and state during a visit by the Pope.
“I hope, when I teach American constitutional law, people will not write it down because it’s in a book,” he told the Harvard Law Bulletin in 2002. “I hope it will govern their lives.”
Professor Caine was a member of the ACLU for 70 years and president of the local chapter from 1983 to 1987. He made it a point to visit protesters, conscientious objectors, and other activists who had been jailed, and he won the ACLU state chapter’s Vigilance Award for service in 2003.
In a tribute, Peter Goldberger, president of the board of directors of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said Professor Caine was a “teacher, champion, and inspiration” who was “utterly dedicated to the work and principles of the ACLU and one of our greatest members of all time.”
He was director of Temple’s Israel Program, chair of the board for Americans for Religious Liberty, and chair of the Greater Philadelphia Lawyers Committee for Soviet Jewry. He also taught trial practice at the University of Pennsylvania for a few years before joining Temple.
He traveled often to Israel, poured over Biblical Hebrew texts, and served as president of the board for the Solomon Schechter Day School, now Perelman Jewish Day School. He debated all sorts of legal issues on TV talk shows and at countless seminars and forums, and published hundreds of articles, editorial opinions, and letters to the editor in The Inquirer, Daily News, and other publications.
“The most important right we have is the right to talk back to the government.”
Professor Burton Caine in 2015.
“He had a strong and relentless intellect,” said his son Gidon.
Born April 4, 1928, in Darby, Burton Caine took violin lessons as a boy and was a star on the John Bartram High School debate team. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Penn in 1949 and law degree from Harvard University in 1952. Afterward, he served two years as a first lieutenant in the Air Force.
He met Shulamith Wechter in high school during a debate, and they married in 1952. They had daughter Sara and sons Uri and Gidon, and lived in Center City, Elkins Park, and Bala Cynwyd.
“We had a very fulfilling marriage,” his wife said. “He was my north star.”
Professor Caine spoke fluent Hebrew at home, enjoyed classical music, and attended the Philadelphia Orchestra. He read history books and encouraged spirited debates on controversial topics at the nightly dinner table. He and his wife also hosted countless other activists and community leaders at memorable dinner parties.
“He was gentle, funny, and sweet as a father,” said son Uri. “He was an idealist. And when he was serious, he meant business.”
In addition to his wife and children, Professor Caine is survived by eight grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, two brothers, and other relatives. Two brothers died earlier.
Services were Sunday, Dec. 10.
Donations in his name may be made to the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Box 60173, Philadelphia, Pa. 19102; New Israel Fund, Box 70358, Philadelphia, Pa. 19176; and Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, 2 Commerce Square, 2001 Market St., Suite 2300, Philadelphia, Pa. 19103.