The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Justice Ginsburg has released a new feminist take on the Passover narrative

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke at Georgetown University Law Center’s second annual dean’s lecture to the graduating class on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a Supreme Court justice. To some, she is also a hipster folk hero known as the Notorious RBG. Now she can be part of your Passover seder.

Ginsburg on Wednesday released with a D.C. rabbi a feminist reading of the Passover story. The essay, which focuses on five women at the center of the Exodus narrative, was put together by the humanitarian group American Jewish World Service and is presented as something to be used during the seder, or ritual meal at the heart of the holiday. Passover begins at sundown on April 3.

“In Exodus, darkness attends the accession of a new Pharaoh who feared the Israelites and so enslaved them. God alone lights the way out of the darkness in Genesis. But in Exodus, God has many partners, first among them, five brave women,” says the essay by Ginsburg and Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt of Adas Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Northwest D.C. “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 vision a reality bathed in the light of the day.”

The short essay, entitled “The Heroic and Visionary Women of Passover,” highlights Moses’ mother Yocheved, midwives Shifra and Puah, Pharoah’s daughter Batya and Moses’ sister Miriam.

For example, in Exodus, Pharoah issues a decree to kill Israelite baby boys. Batya defies her father, saving baby Moses from the Nile. “But transgress she did,” the essay says.

In releasing the essay, the American Jewish World Service notes that Ginsburg is “one of three women currently sitting on the United States Supreme Court.” But her interest in scripture from a feminist perspective is more interesting considering her religious background. In 2008 she told a D.C. audience that she is not observant. My colleague Robert Barnes reported then from Sixth and I Historic Synagogue:

Ginsburg said she is not an observant Jew, though she was raised in such a household. She somewhat reluctantly told the audience that her decision can be traced to her mother’s death when Ginsburg was 17. Although there was “a house full of women,” Jewish law required 10 men to convene a minyan, or communal prayer.
Ginsburg said she might feel differently if she were young now; she recently attended a Washington bat mitzvah where both the rabbi and cantor were women.