Justice Ginsburg writes a feminist opinion for Passover

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks during the lunch session of "The Women's Conference 2010" in Long Beach, California on October 26, 2010. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GINSBURG-PASSOVER, originally transmitted on March 18, 2015.
Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks during the lunch session of "The Women's Conference 2010" in Long Beach, California on October 26, 2010. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni  *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GINSBURG-PASSOVER, originally transmitted on March 18, 2015.

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks during the lunch session of “The Women’s Conference 2010” in Long Beach, Calif., on Oct. 26, 2010. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-GINSBURG-PASSOVER, originally transmitted on March 18, 2015.

(RNS) WASHINGTON — Rabbi Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

Not quite, but when a Jewish nonprofit asked the Supreme Court justice to write a biblical commentary for Passover, she agreed, and added a feminist twist: It would raise up the often overlooked women of the Exodus story.

Ginsburg, one of three Jews and three women on the high court, is known as a champion of women’s rights — but not for being particularly religious.

But Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, whom Ginsburg asked to help out with the commentary, said Ginsburg had a clear vision for the piece and knew exactly which biblical women she wanted to highlight from the iconic liberation story of the Book of Exodus.

“She has a Jewish soul, there is no question,” Holtzblatt, a rabbi at Adas Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C., said of Ginsburg. “It’s in her. It’s deeply in her.”

The New York-based American Jewish World Service, which aims to alleviate poverty in the developing world, invited Ginsburg to write about Passover for its “Celebration and Compassion” essay series, in which prominent leaders comment on Jewish teachings on the holidays to spark conversations about social justice.

Holtzblatt, tapped by Ginsburg in part because Ari Holtzblatt — the rabbi’s husband — is one of Ginsburg’s law clerks, said she is incorporating the commentary into her own seder, the ritual meal that celebrates Passover. The holiday this year begins the evening of April 3.

In most traditional retellings, the enslavement of the Israelites in Egypt and God’s parting of the Red Sea is a story that stars men. But Jewish women in recent years have sought to highlight the roles played by women in the liberation.

Ginsburg and Holtzblatt, for example, write about Yocheved, Moses’ mother, and Miriam, his sister. They also pay homage to Shifra and Puah, the midwives who rejected Pharoah’s decree to kill all the Jewish baby boys. And they recognize Batya, Pharoah’s daughter, who plucked baby Moses out of the Nile River.

Much is lost when only the heroes are celebrated, to the exclusion of the heroines, Holtzblatt said — and Ginsburg wanted to get that across.

The Book of Exodus, much like the Book of Genesis, begins in darkness, with the accession of a new Pharaoh who enslaves the Jews, their commentary reads.

“God alone lights the way out of the darkness in Genesis,” it continues. “But in Exodus, God has many partners, first among them, five brave women.”


About the author

Lauren Markoe

Lauren Markoe has been a national reporter for RNS since 2011. Previously she covered government and politics as a daily reporter at the Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia, S.C.)


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  • Torah explicitly asserts that Miriam was a prophet (Exodus 15:20). The Torah also quotes Miriam and Aaron saying, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” (Numbers 12:2).

    It is clear that Miriam and Aaron considered themselves to be prophets; and the Qur’an specifically states that Aaron, the brother of Moses, was a Prophet/Messenger (Qur’an 23:45) and together with Moses received the Furqan (a revelation). Although the Qur’an does not explicitly mention Miriam as a prophet, there are many prophets of Israel that are not named in the Qur’an.

    So since Miriam was a prophet, what part of the Torah would Miriam the prophet have written?

    In post-biblical times, when the majority of the Rabbis asserted that Moses wrote every word in the Torah, the rabbis downplay the prophecy of Miriam. But there were always some Rabbis who maintained that the revealing and writing of Torah was a much more complex process than Akiba and his followers…

  • I’m about to lead a Women’s Seder at our synagogue, focusing on the untold stories of woman in the Exodus story. So great to have our beloved RBG’s commentary to add. She is one of those role models and mentors who inspire Jewish women today.

  • Since these women are a large part of the picture and are specifically mentioned in the Bible, it is perfectly legitimate and commendable to highlight their roles.

    However, given Justice Ginsburg’s propensity to interpret the Constitution independently of the intent of its writers, we’d have to read her retelling of the Exodus before concluding that she wasn’t doing the same thing with the Bible.

  • Stephen, all you’re doing is reproducing flights of speculation by long-deceased radical skeptics, replete with lurid conspiracy theories which are impossible to prove.

    Maybe it will sink in this time, but as I’ve stated many times, this is not how professional historians operate. They don’t traffic in paranoid theories, but they assume the veracity of an ancient text as to mundane names, places, and events until proven otherwise. And again, for the zillionth time, it is not the absence of corroboration, but the presence of contradiction, which is the standard by which texts are refuted.

    Thus, if a text mentions someone named Moses, historians presume he existed unless something within or outside of it contradicts that assertion. That’s how historical evidence works. It is very similar to legal evidence, where sworn-in witnesses are presumed not to be lying until a material contradiction is found either in their testimony or in the testimony of others.

  • Stephen, all you’re doing is making wild, unprovable assertions that tell us more about you than about the subject you are addressing.

    But beyond even that, arguing whether the Exodus story is fact or fiction is a non sequitur.

    It has nothing to do with the discussion.

    Neither Justice Ginsburg nor the others are assuming either. All they are doing is commenting on a literary work and highlighting the role of women. Once can do this whether they believe the story itself is true or not true.

  • Stephen, again, you’re attempting to hijack the discussion, which is about the female figures in a literary work. Whether the literary work is literal history or not is beside the point. I believe it is, and that there is little cause to believe otherwise, but the discussion does not depend on my being either right or wrong in my assertion. One can have a fruitful discussion about the characters in a work irrespective of whether the characters are historical or not.

  • Stephen, you can repeat your gibberish forever, but however many times you do so, it remains what it was the first time you ever uttered it — gibberish.

    All you’re doing is calling everyone a liar for no apparent reason and to no apparent end, and then babbling incoherently. Nobody understands what you’re talking about. All that comes out is hatred of rabbis and Christians and a weird obsession with imaginary Torahs floating in the sky or in your head that say what you want them to say.

  • If Jochebed was a liberal like Ginsberg, then there is a strong possibility that Miriam, Moses and Aaron may not have been born at all. The odds stacked strongly in favor of their pre-birth demise.

    Thank Ha Shem that Jochebed had conservative moral and theological values.

  • Stephen,

    Your fanaticism is truly horrifying. While you demand the demise of the religious, godless secularism is causing more horrors in our society than anything Jews and Christians could possibly be blamed for.

    Go cruise the mental health institutions and see for yourself. Of course you can’t get into the morgues of most large cities because the secular-dead are stacked hallways wide.

    Even standard wachadoodle atheists reject your goofiness.

    Go hate on Islam and Islamists. There you’ll find your cart full to overflowing of bad religious fruit.

  • Wow, what kind of weed did you smoke to come up with today’s “revelations”? I’ve explained to you more times than I can count that Torah comes from Hebrew for teaching. I’ve also pointed out that there’s no such deity as “Taurowet.” Taweret is the correct name. You switched the consonants and phonics to make it seem closer to Torah. You’re a fraud. Not only that, you’re a coward because you refuse to respond when I point out your errors.

    Judaism doesn’t hide its links to other cultures. Ex. 2:10 explains that Pharoah’s daughter gave Moses an Egyptian name. Daniel lists many exiled Israelites who took on Babylonian names. The Targum even connects Esther to the Persian setareh, meaning star, i.e., the morning star, i.e. Venus, i.e. the goddess Ishtar? Abraham coming from Brahma and Miriam coming from Meri Amun-Ra? Just more of your linguistic ignorance. And considering your lies about “Taurowet,” no one should take you seriously.

  • Stephen, I’ll do you one better — you’re not Jewish, period. And no, I’m not judging you based on your religious beliefs. Based on the Bible, there is no clear-cut religious test on that. Neither of your parents were Jewish nor did they convert and it doesn’t take a rocket science to figure out that you’re both a wannabe Jew and an anti-Semite. It’s obvious.

    I’ve posted plenty on the basic rules of historical evidence and you buy into crackpot theories that violate them every time. Reputable historians don’t succumb to such flights of nonsense but stick to the rules. You can’t just make up outlandish theories and ideas out of whole cloth and replace the words of the Bible or any other document or documents with them. That’s not how scholars operate.

  • A nice gimmick, though the actual commentary is pretty standard fare. I guess it’s less about the content per se than the authorship.