How RBG’s Background Shaped Her and What We Can Learn From It

3 mins read
Prop.Kp. 689 -Film-Nr. 791/23a Bildberichter: Knobloch -Text:ders. Ort: Warschau-Ghetto 8 Bilder 4.) Juden mit ihrem Rabbi beim Gebet. Der Vorbeter liesst aus der gerollten Thora, dem ersten geschriebenen Gebets- und Gesetzbuch des Judentums. "Frei" O.K.W. Freigegeben Bildpresse: 6.6.1941 Send.-Nr. 5832/41

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way :that will lead others to join you.” —Ruth Bader Ginsburg

To classify Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a titan of progress and equality would be an understatement. She was nothing short of a symbol for the causes she championed.

However, to separate Ruth Bader Ginsburg from her background as a Jewish woman from New York would be a disservice to her and her legacy. Her mother grew up in New York as a second-generation American while her father originally emigrated from Ukraine. Ginsburg was from a Conservative Jewish family (Conservative Judaism is a denomination that refers to the interpretation of halacha, or Jewish law) and attended Jewish summer camp. Needless to say, her Jewish faith played a formative role in her life.

The value of social justice is mentioned throughout the Torah. Jeremiah (5:28) emphasizes the need for Jews to “judge the case of the orphan” and “give a hearing to the plea of the needy” while Ezekiel (22:29) condemns those who “oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner….” Undoubtedly, these values were pressed into Ginsburg during her formative years. However, she also carried these values into her career onto the Supreme Court. Throughout her career, she hung the phrase “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” (Deuteronomy 16:20) which translates to “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue” in English.

It wasn’t just her faith, though, that played an important role in forming her beliefs. She grew up in a poor, working-class neighborhood that was comprised mainly of immigrants. Her mother, who worked in a garment factory, taught her the values of independence and education from an early age. She took her mother’s words to heart and attended Cornell University upon graduating from high school.

After attending law school she faced trouble finding employment because she was a woman. It wasn’t until one of her professors threatened to not recommend another student from Columbia that she received a position clerking for Judge Palmieri.

Ginsburg learned a lot through her background growing up poor in New York, as well as through her Jewish faith and her history as a professional woman facing discrimination in the workplace. What Ginsburg taught progressives and activists is the value of perseverance. That no matter who we are or where we come from we have the ability to preserve and improve the world around us. Ginsburg’s nomination to the Supreme Court teaches that we have the inherent value, each and every one of us, to shape the world for the better. In Ginsburg’s passing, we need to heed her words, experiences, and try to make the world a better place.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-134-0791-23A / Knobloch, Ludwig / CC-BY-SA 3.0 / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE (

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