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Repeated discrimination early in her career because of her gender energized her devotion to equality by using the US Constitution

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United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, age 87, passed away of pancreatic cancer on the first evening of Rosh Hashana, leaving a legacy as a trailblazing feminist and a compassionate jurist. Ginsburg was the senior of the three Jewish justices on the nine-member Supreme Court, alongside Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

Born in Brooklyn in 1933, her father Nathan arrived in the United States from Russia at the age of 13 and became a furrier. Her mother Celia was born in New York just months after the family arrived from Austria. Celia was focused on education, having graduated high school at age 15. She aspired for her daughter to become a high school teacher, but tragically died of cancer two days before Ruth graduated.  

The 5-foot-1 future USSC justice went on to Cornell University and married Martin Ginsburg. She later enrolled at Harvard Law School before transferring to Columbia to complete her law degree. She learned personally of the inequities in American society when she was demoted by a government office in 1954 after she became pregnant. About five years later, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter did not even consider Ginsburg’s application to become a clerk because of her gender. Then in 1963, Rutgers Law School hired her as a professor but pointedly paid her less than her male counterparts, citing her marriage to a high earning man as cause.

After teaching at Rutgers and Columbia law schools she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. Her role as general counsel with the ACLU thrust her into the spotlight, taking on 300 gender discrimination cases. She successfully argued five out of six gender discrimination cases (defending the rights of both female and male applicants) before the Supreme Court between 1973 and 1976, including a landmark ruling extending the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to women. 

Nominated by President Jimmy Carter in 1980 to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, she served for 13 years until she was appointed to the Supreme Court after nomination by President Bill Clinton to be its second-ever female judge.

As a jurist, Ginsburg took the approach of seeking incremental change within institutions and her reasoned positions often led to consensus decisions with conservative colleagues on the bench. Although she recognized a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court was an ultra-establishment position, she told the Forward her family history and upbringing as a Jew during WWII “makes you more empathetic to other people who are not insiders, who are outsiders.”

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Although after her death, political opportunists proclaimed that Bader had forsaken Judaism and diminished her roots, in fact it was a deep influence throughout her life. She attended a conservative congregation and at age 15 took the role of ‘Chief Rabbi’ at a summer camp owned by her uncle and aunt. The refusal to allow her to be part of the Minyan at her mother’s Shiva led Ginsburg to distance herself from formal religious practices but not from the moral and spiritual aspects of Judaism.

This quality came to the fore in 1995 when she interceded with Chief Justice William Rehnquist about the court docket clashing with Yom Kippur. Since then, no hearings have been scheduled that would make Jewish legalists have to choose between religious observance on Yom Kippur or arguing for their clients before the high court. (It is noteworthy that Ginsburg attended Kol Nidre services in Washington, DC every year at the Adas Israel Congregation.)

“I had the good fortune of being a Jew born in the United States,” she said in a 2006 interview with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Our parents, one of whom came from Odessa—an area where the Jews were fearful of pogroms. I might not have been here—I more than likely would not have survived the Holocaust if my mother’s family had remained in Austria.”

On vacation in December 1980, Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Martin Ginsburg are pictured with their children, James and Jane, off the coast of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands | Photo: Supreme Court of the United States

In 2017, AP reported she made a surprise appearance as a guest speaker at another DC synagogue. “The Jewish religion is an ethical religion,” she told the Rosh Hashanah crowd. “That is, we are taught to do right, to love mercy, do justice, not because there’s gonna be any reward in heaven or punishment in hell. We live righteously because that’s how people should live and not anticipating any award in the hereafter.”

The next year she received the $1 million Genesis Prize, which is awarded annually for outstanding achievement to a Jewish person, and donated the proceeds to various Jewish charities. In 2019, Philadelphia’s National Museum of American Jewish History mounted a travelling exhibit of her life. 

A private interment service will be held at Arlington National Cemetery, where her husband Martin was buried in 2010.

Marty Gold is the Editor-in -Chief of TheJ.ca. Known for investigative reporting, he has specialized in covering municipal and provincial politics, and a wide range of sports and entertainment, in newspapers, magazines, online, and on his first love, radio. His business and consulting experience includes live events and sales, workplace safety, documentary productions, PR, and telecommunications in Vancouver, Los Angeles and across Canada, and as a contestant on CBC-TV Dragons Den.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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