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Supreme Court Justices Elana Kagan, Stephen Breyer Discuss Jewish Roots

Elana Kagan and Stepen Beyer

At the 2014 General Assembly Conference of the Jewish Federations of North America, two of the three Jewish Supreme Court Justices, Elana Kagan and Stephen Breyer (the third is Ruth Bader Ginsburg) discussed their Jewish roots before a an audience of 2, 000.

Elana Kagan said the remarkable thing about being a Jewish Supreme Court Justice is that it is no longer remarkable. She said, according to JTA, “The one thing nobody ever said, the one thing I never heard was, ‘We don’t need a third Jewish justice. Or ‘there’s a problem with that.’ So that’s a wonderful thing. My grandmother would have said, ‘Only in America.”

When Rabbi Shlomo Riskin was still director of Lincoln Square synagogue on the Upper West Side (he is now Chief rabbi of Efrat), Kagan had a bat mitzvah of sorts, although it wasn’t common practice to have them at that time. She read for the Haftarah instead of the Torah portion and it was on Friday night instead of Shabbat day. “Rabbi Riskin was very gracious. I think it was good for the synagogue.”

Justice Breyer said that the theme of tzedakah influences him in his work. “It’s not quite charity, ” he explained, “And it’s not quite rule of law. It’s part of trying to create a better world.” Justice Breyer said the main problem today is that some people believe in the rule of law and some people don’t, “That is the battle. We are on the right side of that.”

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