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Missed Opportunity

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Dear Justice Kagan,

I was thinking of you yesterday, knowing that it was the day that you were taking the oath as the 112th Supreme Court Justice. And I extend my best wishes as you begin what, I imagine, will be a long tenure as a member of the highest court in the land.

Much has been made of your religion. Within our community, of course, there has been a surge of pride as we watched one of our own expertly and deftly handle the confirmation process. We have read with interest of your insistence to publicly mark your coming-of-age at a time and in a place where such things were not done. Your Bat Mitzvah service was the first one held in your shul and had a profound and lasting effect on its approach to ritual participation of women.

I was, therefore, especially disappointed in the day selected for you to take your oath . On a Saturday. On Shabbat. With the Court about to break for recess, timeliness was a concern. And yet I wonder why the oath could not have been administered on Friday.

Though your childhood synagogue would certainly be described as such, you do not claim to be an Orthodox Jew. You do, however, consider yourself to be a Conservative Jew. Conservative Judaism affirms the role that Halakha plays in daily life, while recognizing the need to understand them in our own day. The Conservative Movement continues to view Shabbat observance as a major tenet of Jewish life, but has sought to make it more observable within a reasonable, yet firm, framework. For example, in 1960, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards adopted a takkanah regarding the issue of driving on Shabbat. Asserting that “the Sabbath cannot function as the great day of the Lord unless we consciously “make a fence around it”. The most important of the fences we must make to safeguard the Sabbath as an oasis of peace and of holiness is the avoidance of travel,” the Committee ruled that modern circumstances have placed congregants in a further proximity from the synagogue than in earlier times. Since there is a positive value in attending shul on Shabbos and most folks no longer live within walking distance, the law was relaxed in order to encourage the community to come together weekly. For the purpose of worship.

With three Jewish Justices now sitting on the Bench, there is no question that we have been accepted in the general society. Our contributions are valued and we benefit from the many freedoms which you now protect on behalf of all citizens. Imagine the precedent that would have been set had you said, “even though I am not a Halakhic Jew, I still recognize the historical and religious sanctity of the Jewish Sabbath” and insist that the swearing-in be held on a day other than a Saturday.

Again, b’hatzlacha and mazal tov on this auspicious undertaking and take to heart the words spoken to Joshua on the precipice of his new role as Israel’s leader: חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ — Be strong and of good courage.

Sincerely,

Rabbi FrumeSarah

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Sunday, 8 August 2010 11:09 am

    Amen!
    Thanks for writing this post Sarah and be sure to include it in next week’s Haveil Havalim.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Sunday, 8 August 2010 10:15 pm

      Thanks! I will certainly submit it. I can’t imagine that I was the only one to have this reaction. Though I may be one of the few in the liberal community who would have preferred that the oath was not administered on Shabbat. Am I right?

      • Monday, 9 August 2010 12:02 am

        I sincerely hope that you are not one oft he few in the liberal community who disagrees; it would be too depressing.

  2. Sunday, 8 August 2010 1:39 pm

    Excellent post. Thank you for writing this!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Sunday, 8 August 2010 10:16 pm

      Thanks, Chavi. Wondering what others had to say about this…

  3. Sunday, 8 August 2010 7:53 pm

    I thought the same thing! But I’m not as eloquent as you 🙂

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Sunday, 8 August 2010 10:16 pm

      Aw, that’s so nice of you to say. Thanks for the compliment.

  4. Rebgiraffe permalink
    Sunday, 8 August 2010 9:14 pm

    Dear FS,

    Since I am not certain whether Justice Kagan is a regular reader of Frume Sarah’s World (though she is missing a great deal if she is not!), I would urge you to send this letter directly to her at her office at the United States Supreme Court. I would be interested in reading her response.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Sunday, 8 August 2010 10:17 pm

      Mom? Is that you?? Have you hijacked Zayde’s email account??

      The Supreme Court does not receive comments via email so I will have to send on my thoughts the old-fashioned way. I will certainly report back if I hear anything.

  5. Wednesday, 11 August 2010 7:26 am

    I am with you on this on 100%! Please keep us all informed on the Justice’s response.

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