IN MOURNING THE loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a pillar of justice, integrity and honor who relied on her Jewish values to guide her, it is crucial to note the importance of justice in Jewish tradition.
Pursuing justice for everyone is woven throughout the Torah.
In Micah 6:8 we are told what God asks of us is only to “seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.”
The rock upon which Judaism rests is to make sure leaders do not speak just for those with power or wealth, but rather to protect the needs of the most vulnerable.
Judaism has always taught that those who are powerless — the poor, the sick, the hungry and the refugee — are the ones that need a shield against greed and raw political power, and that our job as Jews is to put those principles into action.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg spent her entire life embracing these very values.
Having faced discrimination because of her gender and her Jewish heritage, she understood what it was like to struggle against those in power.
She fought for equal justice against all odds, and through her fierce but quiet strength, brought others to the realization that our Constitution was meant to bring true equality to all.
Rabbi Emily Cohen said, “Like many prophets, she was willing to say the uncomfortable things even when she was in the minority. The notion of ‘I dissent,’ the notion of standing up, even knowing that she is not going to have the majority rule in some cases, the notion that she was still willing to stand up for what was right is very powerful.”
Journalist Gillian Brockell recounts Ginsberg’s words about the importance of Judaism in her lifelong fight for justice for those treated unequally under the law. “My heritage as a Jew and my occupation as a judge fit together symmetrically. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition. I take pride in and draw strength from my heritage, as signs in my chambers attest: a large silver mezuzah on my doorpost, [a] gift from the Shulamith School for Girls in Brooklyn; on three walls, in artists’ renditions of Hebrew letters, the command from Deuteronomy: ‘Zedek, zedek, tirdof’ — ‘Justice, justice shall you pursue.’ Those words are ever-present reminders of what judges must do that they ‘may thrive.’ ”
Ginsburg never lost sight of the poor and oppressed, and because of her perseverance, America is better through her work.
Our country has been transformed by this tiny woman of great moral and spiritual strength.
All citizens have benefited from her unwavering fight against prejudice in our laws.
As a lawyer, the first few cases she argued before the Supreme Court involved men who were facing discriminatory laws based on sex, showing that both men and women suffered under these laws.
She saw women as having the intelligence and right to make their own economic, political and medical decisions, and fought for their equal pay.
She spoke of the importance of the rights of all citizens to marry those they loved without government interference.
She stood up for the rights of the disabled and fought diligently for voting rights, speaking eloquently against anything that restricted or suppressed a person’s right to vote.
Ginsberg clearly believed the Constitution applied to every American, no matter their status in society, and her Judaism gave her a herculean strength of purpose in that struggle.
Ginsberg died just as Jews were beginning the joyous holy day of Rosh Hashanah.
According to Jewish tradition, a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah is a tzaddik, a person of great righteousness.
Rabbi Jonah Pesner said, “How can one not find resonance and meaning that [she died] on the holiest day of the year, as we are entering this period of teshuvah, which is in essence a Jewish affirmation that the brokenness in the world and the brokenness of a person isn’t necessarily the state that needs to be, that repair is possible, that teshuvah, that repentance is available and that redemption can come.”
As we begin a new Jewish year, may we find the strength and courage to emulate the life of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and continue her fight for justice.
Let us be guided by the words in Amos 5:24: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”
Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will. Shalom.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is [email protected] olympus.net.