During the contentious debate last month in regards to choosing a possible flawless personality for the office of President of Israel, I kept thinking of Justice Miriam Ben-Porat.
Justice Ben-Porat was the first woman appointed to the Israeli Supreme Court, where she served from 1988 to 1998, simultaneously functioning as State Comptroller, also as the first woman in that capacity.
The lady justice was not impressed with the distinction of being “the first woman” – whatever the reference. At the time of her appointment, Miriam Ben-Porat received a letter of congratulations from the Ministry of Education on being the first woman named to the bench. She recalled her response: “I wrote back thanking them but pointing out that I looked forward to the day when the appointment of a woman to the Supreme Court would cause no more of a sensation than the appointment of a man.”
As an afterthought, she added: “I would not be at all surprised if the next appointment to the Supreme Court were a woman and I have excellent candidates in mind.”
Israeli feminists have lobbied for permanent places to be reserved for women on the Supreme Court and other positions of power, believing that without such affirmative action parity between the sexes will continue to sadly lag behind, and that women’s special quality of compassion would make a vital contribution in settling social issues. In fact, if a judge does not possess this quality, he (or she) ought not to be on the bench at all.
For Mrs. Ben-Porat the Supreme Court appointment was not the first “first woman” position. Before becoming a Supreme Court justice, she was the first woman to serve as president of the Yerushalayim District Court. By coincidence, during one term, the women outnumbered the men on the bench. She remembered with an amused look on her face: “We were three women on the bench, Hannah Even-Or, Shoshana Netanyahu and myself…” Shoshana Netanyahu herself was a Supreme Court justice at the time, and Miriam Ben-Porat jocularly referred to her as the second “first woman on the Supreme Court.”
Miriam Shinezon was born in Lithuania, Russia, seventy-six years ago. Shortly after her arrival in Eretz Yisrael in 1936, she was admitted to the faculty of law at Hebrew University in Yerushalayim. Upon the completion of her internship, the young lawyer became an assistant to the attorney of state. “It was a new state. The way was open for women,” Justice Ben-Porat declared with refreshing modesty, for there is no doubt that it was her superior legal abilities, even as a new lawyer, that landed her the important position at the outset of her career. And it was those abilities, later coupled with experience and a legendary humanity that propelled her to ever greater heights of achievement.
On the nature of democracy in Israel, a topic very much in the forefront of public discussion nowadays, Miriam Ben-Porat’s last opinion comes as no surprise: “Even democracy must have its limitations. When a development threatens the security of the state, it has to be immediately uprooted. We must not be near-sighted, because our survival is at stake…”
With such sentiments I believe Miram-Ben Porat would have been an ideal presidential candidate.