All justices past and likely present were reared in a religion that stands on the words in the Bible. Turning to the Bible, a favorite quote comes to mind: Deuteronomy 16:20: "Justice, justice shalt thou pursue." (Associate Justice Elena Kagan)
Law serves a central role in Jewish faith and tradition. Indeed, Jewish law comprises a legal system, which developed over thousands of years, exploring and regulating every form of human endeavor and experience. Therefore, it may not be surprising that the American courts and legal scholars have increasingly turned to Jewish legal tradition to insights into various issues confronting the American legal system. Jewish law has provided an alternative model, and, at times a contrast cast that some have found particularly helpful in illuminating complex, controversial, and unsettled areas of American law.
Deborah is introduced in Judges 4:4 as a prophet and a judge. Both titles indicate her role as someone who serves as an intermediary between the human world and the divine, bringing the word of God to the people of Israel. This task is certainly an important one within Israelite society, indeed, envisioned by the passage’s authors as being so important that Deborah is even assigned a special location from which to carry out her work, a tree known as the palm of Deborah, located in the hill country of Ephraim between Ramah and Bethel. As Judges 4:5 tells us, Deborah used to sit under this tree while the Israelites came to her to seek her judgment and advice.
Today, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who as a lawyer, professor, women’s rights advocate and Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, transformed constitutional jurisprudence to guarantee equality under the law. She is the second woman on the bench in the court’s history, and it’s first Jewish mother.
It was a combination of extraordinary abilities, the values instilled in her by her parents, tireless devotion to her work, the support of her husband and family, and, as she herself states, good luck, that brought her to the highest position to which a lawyer can aspire. Although she is the first Jewish woman on the Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg follows such outstanding jurists as Brandeis, Cardozo, Frankfurter, Goldberg and Fortas. She and Justice Steven Breyer are the 107th and 108th justices, and recently welcomed to the court Associate Justice Elena Kagan.
“There is an age-old connection between social justice to mend tears caused by the Holocaust and Jewish tradition. One of my predecessors, Justice Arthur Goldberg, famously remarked: “My concern for justice, for peace, for enlightenment…stems from my Jewish heritage.” Art in my chambers display the Hebrew letters, the command from Deuteronomy—Justice, justice shalt thou pursue. These postings serve as ever-present reminders of what judges must do…that they may thrive.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is one of a number of Jewish women who helped to change the rules of professional life and parenthood, making it more possible for mothers, as well as fathers, to become mentors to their children, and for daughters, as well as sons, to reach their full potential. When appointed to the Court by President Clinton, she said:
“I am a judge born, raised and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of the Jewish tradition. I hope, in my years on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States, I will have the strength and the courage to remain constant in the service of that demand.”