Cour­tesy of Aman­da Tyler


Tel Aviv (July 42018)

Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg, Asso­ciate Jus­tice, Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States

I am pleased beyond the capac­i­ty of words to con­vey that Aharon Barak has pre­sent­ed this award to me. He is one of the world’s most bril­liant, human­i­tar­i­an jurists. I am proud to count him and his wife, Eli­ka, trea­sured col­leagues and friends.

Huge thanks, too, to the Gen­e­sis Foun­da­tion for cre­at­ing a life­time achieve­ment award con­ferred by for­mer Gen­e­sis Prize win­ners, an award I am per­mit­ted to accept.

I appre­ci­ate so very much the kind words just said about me. Yet I know that, more than any­thing else, good for­tune — mazal” — accounts for my part in the effort to achieve equal cit­i­zen­ship stature for women, also for the office I now hold, includ­ing the praise it gar­ners. An Isaac Bashe­vis Singer remem­brance bears retelling.

Singer’s grand­fa­ther was a renowned ortho­dox rab­bi who, in a ser­mon, put this ques­tion to his con­gre­ga­tion: Why is the Almighty so eager for praise? Three times a day we pray to him, we say how great He is, how won­der­ful. Why should the cre­ator of all the stars, all the plan­ets, be so eager for praise? The sage rabbi’s answer: The Almighty knows from expe­ri­ence, from divine expe­ri­ence, that when peo­ple stop prais­ing him, they begin to praise one anoth­er. This, Singer’s grand­fa­ther said, is what the Almighty does not like. But small peo­ple that we are, Singer added, we enjoy some­times some praise, espe­cial­ly when it comes from the mouths of good peo­ple. Just so, I am enjoy­ing this event and my revis­it to Israel.

It is fit­ting, on this occa­sion, to speak of two Jew­ish women raised in the USA whose human­i­ty and brav­ery inspired me in my grow­ing up years.

First, Emma Lazarus, elder cousin to the great jurist Ben­jamin Nathan Car­do­zo. Emma Lazarus was a Zion­ist before that word came into vogue. Her love for humankind, and espe­cial­ly for her Peo­ple, is evi­dent in all her writ­ings. She wrote con­stant­ly, from her first vol­ume of poet­ry pub­lished in 1866 at age 17, until her death from can­cer far too soon, at age 38. Her poem, The New Colos­sus,” etched on the base of the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty, has wel­comed legions of immi­grants, includ­ing my father and grand­par­ents, peo­ple seek­ing in the USA shel­ter from fear and longed-for free­dom from intolerance.

My next inspir­er, Hadas­sah founder Hen­ri­et­ta Szold. Born in 1860, eleven years after Emma Lazarus, Szold lived until 1945. My moth­er spoke of her glow­ing­ly, also of Hen­ry Street Set­tle­ment House founder Lil­lian Wald (who lived from 1867 until 1940). Szold knew how to say No” bet­ter than any oth­er per­son whose words I have read. Szold had sev­en sis­ters, but no broth­er. When her moth­er died, a man well known for his com­mu­ni­ty-spir­it­ed endeav­ors, Haym Peretz, offered to say the Kad­dish — the mourner’s prayer that, ancient cus­tom instruct­ed, could be recit­ed only by men. Szold respond­ed to that car­ing offer in a let­ter dat­ed Sep­tem­ber 16, 1916. You can read it in full in Four Cen­turies of Jew­ish Women’s Spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and in the Jew­ish Women’s Archive cur­ricu­lum, Mak­ing Our Wilder­ness Bloom. The key passages:

It is impos­si­ble for me to find words in which to tell you how deeply I was touched by your offer to act as Kad­dish” for my dear moth­er.… What you have offered to do [is beau­ti­ful beyond thanks] — I shall nev­er for­get it.

You will won­der, then, that I can­not accept your offer.… I know well, and appre­ci­ate what you say about, the Jew­ish cus­tom [that only male chil­dren recite the prayer, and if there are no male sur­vivors, a male stranger may act as sub­sti­tute]; and Jew­ish cus­tom is very dear and sacred to me. [Y]et I can­not ask you to say Kad­dish after my moth­er. The Kad­dish means to me that the sur­vivor pub­licly … man­i­fests his … inten­tion to assume the rela­tion to the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty which his par­ent had, [so that] the chain of tra­di­tion remains unbro­ken from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion, each adding its own link. You can do that for the gen­er­a­tions of your fam­i­ly, I must do that for the gen­er­a­tions of my family.…

My moth­er had eight daugh­ters and no son; yet nev­er did I hear a word of regret pass the lips of either my moth­er or my father that one of us was not a son. When my father died, my moth­er would not per­mit oth­ers to take her daugh­ters’ place in say­ing the Kad­dish, [and so I am sure] I am act­ing in her spir­it when I am moved to decline your offer. But beau­ti­ful your offer remains nev­er­the­less, and, I repeat, I know full well that it is much more in [har­mo­ny] with the gen­er­al­ly accept­ed Jew­ish tra­di­tion than is my or my family’s con­cep­tion. You under­stand me, don’t you?

Szold’s plea for cel­e­bra­tion of our com­mon her­itage while tol­er­at­ing— indeed, appre­ci­at­ing — the dif­fer­ences among us con­cern­ing reli­gious prac­tice, is cap­ti­vat­ing, don’t you agree? I recall her words even to this day when a colleague’s words betray a cer­tain lack of understanding.

When I became active in the move­ment to open doors to women, enabling them to enter occu­pa­tions once closed to them — lawyer­ing and judg­ing, bar­tend­ing, polic­ing, and fire­fight­ing, for exam­ple — I was heart­ened by the words of a girl of my gen­er­a­tion. She wrote:

One of the many ques­tions that have often both­ered me is why women have been, and still are, thought to be so infe­ri­or to men. It’s easy to say it’s unfair, but that’s not enough for me; I’d real­ly like to know the rea­son for this great injustice!

Men pre­sum­ably dom­i­nat­ed women from the very begin­ning because of their greater phys­i­cal strength; it’s men who earn a liv­ing, beget chil­dren, [and] do as they please.… Until recent­ly, women silent­ly went along with this, which was stu­pid, since the longer it’s kept up, the more deeply entrenched it becomes. For­tu­nate­ly, edu­ca­tion, work and progress have opened women’s eyes. In many coun­tries they’ve been grant­ed equal rights; many peo­ple, main­ly women, but also men, now real­ize how wrong it was to tol­er­ate this state of affairs for so long.…


Anne M. Frank

This insight­ful com­ment was one of the last entered in her diary. Anne Frank, Diary read­ers in this audi­ence know, was born in the Nether­lands in July 1929. She died in 1945, while impris­oned at Bergen-Belsen, three months short of her 16th birthday.

I was asked some years ago by the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Com­mit­tee (AJC) to sup­ply a state­ment on how my her­itage as a Jew and my occu­pa­tion as a judge fit togeth­er. I respond­ed this way:

I am a judge, born, raised, and proud of being a Jew. The demand for jus­tice, for peace, and for enlight­en­ment runs through the entire­ty of Jew­ish his­to­ry and Jew­ish tra­di­tion. I hope, in all the years I have the good for­tune to con­tin­ue serv­ing on the bench of the Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States, I will have the strength and courage to remain stead­fast in the ser­vice of that demand.

With thanks for your patient audi­ence, and once again, deep­est appre­ci­a­tion to Aharon Barak and to the Gen­e­sis Foun­da­tion, may I say to all gath­ered here: Shalom v’todah rabah.

Excerpt from Jus­tice, Jus­tice Thou Shalt Pur­sue, by Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg and Aman­da L. Tyler, from UC Press, March 2021

Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg (1933 – 2020) was Asso­ciate Jus­tice of the Unit­ed States Supreme Court. Born in Brook­lyn, New York, she received her BA from Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty, attend­ed Har­vard Law School, and received her LLB from Colum­bia Law School. From 1959 to 1961, Gins­burg served as a law clerk to the Hon­or­able Edmund L. Palmieri, Judge of the Unit­ed States Dis­trict Court for the South­ern Dis­trict of New York. She was a pro­fes­sor of law at Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty School of Law (1963 – 1972) and at Colum­bia Law School (1972 – 1980). She was appoint­ed a judge of the Unit­ed States Court of Appeals for the Dis­trict of Colum­bia Cir­cuit in 1980. Then-pres­i­dent Clin­ton nom­i­nat­ed her as Asso­ciate Jus­tice of the Supreme Court, and she took her seat on August 10, 1993. Jus­tice Gins­burg died on Sep­tem­ber 18, 2020, as this book was going into production.

Aman­da L. Tyler is Shan­non Cecil Turn­er Pro­fes­sor of Law at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley School of Law, where she teach­es and writes about the Supreme Court, the fed­er­al courts, con­sti­tu­tion­al law, and civ­il pro­ce­dure. The author of many arti­cles and sev­er­al books, includ­ing Habeas Cor­pus in Wartime: From the Tow­er of Lon­don to Guan­tanamo Bay, Tyler also serves as a coed­i­tor of the promi­nent case­book and trea­tise Hart and Wechsler’s The Fed­er­al Courts and the Fed­er­al Sys­tem. Tyler served as a law clerk to the Hon­or­able Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg at the Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States dur­ing the Octo­ber Term 1999.