Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
News

Supreme Court Judges Laud ‘Wonder’ of 3 Jewish Justices at Federation G.A.

Supreme Court justices Stephen Breyer and Elana Kagan talked about their Jewish identities at the opening plenary of the 2014 General Assembly conference of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Speaking before a crowd of more than 2,000 at the conference center just outside Washington, Breyer said the most remarkable thing about there being three Jews among the nine Supreme Court justices is how unremarkable it is in America today.

READ: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Forward 50 for ‘Notorious’-ly Outspoken Dissent

Kagan, the other justice on the panel discussion moderated by NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg, said that her Jewish identity was the one thing that didn’t come up during her confirmation process.

“The one thing nobody ever said, the one thing I never heard was, ‘We don’t need a third Jewish justice,’ or ‘There’s a problem with that,’ ” she said. “So that’s a wonderful thing. My grandmother would have said ‘Only in America.’ ”

Kagan also talked about her bat mitzvah, crediting Rabbi Shlomo Riskin – then of the Lincoln Square Synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (and now rabbi in Efrat, West Bank), with enabling the ceremony even though that sort of thing was not done in Orthodox synagogues back when Kagan was a kid.

The bat mitzvah wasn’t exactly identical to her brother’s, Kagan said – it was called a bat Torah, took place on Friday night rather than Saturday and had her chanting the haftarah portion rather than the Torah portion – but it was meaningful and groundbreaking nonetheless.

“We reached a kind of deal: It wasn’t a full bar mitzvah, but it was something,” she said. “Rabbi Riskin was very gracious, and I think it was good for the synagogue.”

Breyer said that when he thinks about what it means to be Jewish in the court, he thinks about the Jewish tradition of tzedakah.

“It’s not quite charity,” he said, “and it’s not quite rule of law either, but it’s part of trying to create a better world.” Breyer said the great divisions of the world today are between those who believe in the rule of law and those who don’t.

“And that is a battle, and we’re on the right side of that,” he said.

The theme of this year’s General Assembly is “The world is our backyard,” and speakers will include Vice President Joe Biden and, via satellite, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“This year’s G.A. will remind us of why federation is relevant and critical,” G.A. co-chair Howard Friedman said.

Engage

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.