Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wants everyone sitting around their seder tables to think about “the women who played a crucial role in the Exodus narrative.”
When asked by the American Jewish World Service to create a reading for Passover as part of its Chag v’Chesed, celebration and compassion, series, the 82-year old justice turned to some of the issues she holds dear.
She also turned to Ari Holtzblatt, her law clerk who is married to Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington. Rabbi Holtzblatt had met Ginsburg a few times socially with her husband, and had seen Ginsburg participate in High Holiday services at Adas, but this was the first time the two woman had professionally collaborated.
Ginsburg is famous for her strident dissent in the 2000 Bush v. Gore case that paved the way for George W. Bush to become president, as well as for writing the opinion that upheld the right of women to attend the Virginia Military Institute.
Ginsburg tackled AJWS’ assignment like an oral argument. She got right to the point. The one-page reading covers five women, the Middle East and Ukraine.
“She’s very succinct,” Holtzblatt said. “She is not of this world. She is brilliant. Her brilliance is coupled with her ability to be precise.”
Ginsburg, who has sat on this country’s highest court since 1993, initially sat down with Holtzblatt.
“She set the vision for the peace. She said she wanted to focus on these particular woman,” said Holtzblatt, who oversees adult education at Adas.
While they did work together, Holtzblatt also worked by herself on parts. She sat down to incorporate Ginsburg’s vision much like she writes her sermons. “I am a rabbi. I am all about adding words,” she said.
But Ginsburg didn’t go for that at all, Holtzblatt said. “She was able to barrel through all the things I was saying and say ‘this, this and this is what we are saying’ ” and no more, Holtzblatt recalled.
The women who made it into the final version were Yocheved, Moses’ mother, and midwives Shifra and Puah. As stated in their reading, these women defy Pharaoh’s decree to kill Israelite baby boys. The reading also details the prophecy of Miriam, Moses’ sister, who spoke of the unborn Moses as the savior of Israel.
Finally, the reading covers Pharaoh’s daughter, Batya, who plucked the baby Moses out of the Nile, despite the fact that her father told her not to and others tried to dissuade her.
“These women had a vision leading out of the darkness shrouding their world. They were women of action, prepared to defy authority to make their own vision a reality bathed in the light of day,” the two women wrote.
Retelling the story of these five women will remind young women of today “that with vision and the courage to act, they can carry forward the tradition those intrepid women launched.”
Besides the female aspect, Ginsburg and Holtzblatt’s reading includes a closing paragraph that discusses “inhumanity spawned by ignorance and hate,” specifically in the Middle East, parts of Africa and Ukraine. “The Passover story recalls to all of us – women and men – that with vision and action we can join hands with others of like mind, kindling lights along paths leading out of the terrifying darkness.”
To view the reading, go to blogs.ajws.org/blog/2015/03/18/justice-ruth-bader-ginsburgs-passover-reflection/