Photo Credit: Steve Petteway, SCOTUS / Public Domain
US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 15 Sept 2010

{Reposted from the Emes Ve-Emunah blog}

I can’t think of too many people whose liberal political ideology was so vastly different from my own (although I actually agreed with her liberal view about keeping abortion legal) and at the same time admired so much. But that is how I felt about the ‘Notorious RBG’ – Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg died Friday night on the first night of Rosh Hashana.

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She was Jewish but not observant. That was not her fault. She was a Tinokes Shenishba – captured (so to speak) by the culture of the more or less secular Jewish lifestyle in which she was raised. She had little in the way of a Jewish education.  But at the same time she was proud of her Jewish heritage. She said she was motivated by the Torah’s command of Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof – justice, justice you shall pursue. Her goal in life was to seek justice for all. With a special emphasis on those who were less fortunate in life than she.

Justice Ginsburg was a feminist pioneer – opening up opportunities for women long denied them by virtue of their sex. Despite the fact that she graduated at the top of her class at Columbia University Law School, she was denied a job by every law firm she applied to. That gave her the determination to change things. Which she did as a legal council for the ACLU long before she served on the Supreme Court. In a landmark case of sex discrimination – ironically against a man serving in the traditionally female role as a caregiver – she won the lawsuit!

I think women (and men for that matter) everywhere owe Justice Ginsburg a debt of gratitude for opening up opportunities formerly denied them. There are now many female professionals that have proven to be the equal of their male counterparts. Justice Ginsburg made that happen.

Equality of the sexes in employment opportunity and compensation was a goal I had always had. And it still is . That is what feminism was when Justice Ginsburg began her career. That – and promoting equal respect between the sexes. I salute her for being the catalyst that made it all happen. Unfortunately it is still a work in progress. In many cases women are still not compensated on par with their male equivalents. There is work to be done.

Justice Ginsburg was also a role model for comity. She had tolerance and respect for the views of others no matter how disparate their views. One of her closest friends on the Supreme Court was the late Justice Antonin Scalia. He was the most politically conservative member of the court. Their friendship was personal. They were able to put political differences aside. They had many shared interests – for example the love of opera. They attended many concerts together. They often appeared together at legal forums and were able to good naturedly poke fun at each other generating a laugh rather than the rancor that is usually associated between people with diametrically opposite political views.

For me that was one of her greatest attributes (as it was for Justice Scalia). Something that doesn’t seem to exist anymore. I see it all over in both public and private venues. The venom and ridicule that sometimes accompanies the rejection of another person’s point of view is almost a given these days. Justice Ginsburg failed in transmitting that value to the general public. We are more divided now – and are angrier about it than ever.

Unfortunately President Trump has contributed mightily to this phenomenon. But it existed long before he was President. The anger by the right against the liberal Obama for example was pretty fierce long before Trump. You would have to be blind to reality to not recognize that and at the same time blind to the reality of the President’s role in exacerbating it.

It would be a great additional legacy for Justice Ginsburg if we all took a step back from our strident political views and recognized that that there are decent and honorable people whose views are diametrically opposite ours and respect them for it.

If the President succeeds in his promise to nominate a highly qualified conservative woman to replace Justice Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, and then she is approved by the senate – it would be wonderful if those among us on the left accept her without anger.

Baruch Dayan Emes. May God comfort those who mourn her among all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

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