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Tue Sep 22, 2020, 12:12 AM

A Jewish perspective on the passing of Ginsberg

Last edited Tue Sep 22, 2020, 02:12 AM - Edit history (1)

From Molly Conway on Facebook:

There's a few posts going around reminding folks that since RBG is Jewish, the proper thing to say about her passing is "May her memory be for blessing," which is true, but I wanted to add a bit of perspective on what that means.

Jewish tradition does not focus on the afterlife. There are a few thoughts on what happens when we go, some of which look a bit like reincarnation, and some of which looks like time to reevaluate our actions and relationships on earth, but for the most part, the whole "Do good things, get good reward from God; do bad things, get bad punishment from God" is just not part of our worldview. (Spoiler alert: this is why I love The Good Place so much- the final season feels very in line with Jewish thoughts on the afterlife.)

When Jews speak of righteousness, it is never with the idea of an eternal reward. We work to be good humans to others and ourselves because justice and peace are their own rewards. We don't know what happens next, but we know what happens here, and that is enough. The pursuit of justice is one of the highest callings of Judaism, and it should not be misinterpreted as vengeance or punishment. The ideas of justice and sustainability are inextricably linked in Judaism. A system that is unjust cannot sustain, and a system that is unsustainable cannot be just.

It is said that a person who passes on Rosh Hashona is a Tzedek, a good and righteous person. When we speak of tzedakah, the word is often translated as "charity" but it is more accurate to say righteousness. Tzedakah can take many forms (including monetary donation) but it's important to note that tzedakah is not a benevolent contribution given to be kind or nice to those who need it, it is to be viewed as a balancing of the scales, an active working towards justice. To use a simple example, one should donate to the local food bank not to gain favor with God, or to be nice to those with less than ourselves, but because it is unjust for anyone to be without food, especially while others have plenty. Correcting injustice, balancing the scales, evaluating the distribution of power and creating equity is tzedakah, the work of righteousness.

Similar to Maslow's (imperfect) hierarchy of needs, Maimonides wrote in the Middle Ages of eight levels of Tzedakah, the highest of which results in self sufficiency, or rather, an act that creates a sustainable form of justice. "Teaching a man to fish" is an extremely reductionist view of this idea, but it's a start- the real meat of it is the idea that charity is good, but eliminating the need for charity is better. (i.e. Tax the billionaires so we can have universal healthcare instead of praising the rich for building hospitals with their names on them.)

The second highest form is where both the giver and the receiver are unknown to each other. This allows both for the dignity of the recipient, and for the giver to be free from personal motivation and reward. In other words, we should help create a more just world for the benefit of people we don't know, without the expectation of praise, gratitude, or reward, in this life or the next.

When we say that Ruth Bader Ginsberg was a Tzedek, we don't just mean she was a nice person. What we're saying is that she was a thoughtful person who worked tirelessly to create a more just world. One that would perpetuate equality and access, one that wasn't reliant on charity, one that was better for people she did not know, without the expectation of praise or fame. THAT is what it means to be a Tzedek, and I can't think of anyone who better embodies the pursuit of justice.

When we say "may her memory be for blessing" the blessing we speak of is not "may we remember her fondly" or "may her memory be a blessing to us" the blessing implied is this: May you be like Ruth. Jewish thought teaches us that when a person dies, it is up to those who bear her memory to keep her goodness alive. We do this my remembering her, we do this by speaking her name, we do this by carrying on her legacy. We do this by continuing to pursue justice, righteousness, sustainability.

So when you hear us say "May her memory be for blessing" don't hear "It's nice to remember her"-- hear "It's up to us to carry on her legacy." When you hear us say, "She was a Tzedek" don't hear "She was a nice person"-- hear "She was a worker of justice."

May her memory be for blessing.

May her memory be for revolution.

May we become a credit to her name.

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Arrow 21 replies Author Time Post
Reply A Jewish perspective on the passing of Ginsberg (Original post)
Qutzupalotl Sep 22 OP
Behind the Aegis Sep 22 #1
DFW Sep 22 #4
BainsBane Sep 22 #7
blueseas Sep 22 #8
Behind the Aegis Sep 22 #10
Hekate Sep 22 #12
Behind the Aegis Sep 22 #14
Hekate Sep 22 #16
yuiyoshida Sep 22 #15
Hekate Sep 23 #19
The Velveteen Ocelot Sep 22 #2
fierywoman Sep 22 #3
UTUSN Sep 22 #5
godsentme Sep 22 #6
nwliberalkiwi Sep 22 #9
Hekate Sep 22 #11
smirkymonkey Sep 22 #13
burrowowl Sep 22 #17
Solly Mack Sep 22 #18
demmiblue Sep 23 #20
Hekate Sep 23 #21

Response to Qutzupalotl (Original post)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 12:18 AM

1. I am just glad some are recognizing that she was Jewish.

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Reply #1)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 12:54 AM

4. I never met anyone who thought she was anything else. n/t

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Response to DFW (Reply #4)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 01:29 AM

7. +1

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Response to DFW (Reply #4)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 02:13 AM

8. True we knew her

What a beautiful person she was.

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Response to DFW (Reply #4)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 02:34 AM

10. Not my point.

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Reply #1)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 03:15 AM

12. On the very night she died, it was Michael Steele who said: "Blessed is the true judge"

Michael Steele, former RNC Chair and former seminarian, quoted the Bible and said “Blessed is the true judge.”

If that is not a deep recognition, I don’t know what would be.

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Response to Hekate (Reply #12)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 03:20 AM

14. How nice

Thank you for correcting me

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Reply #14)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 04:05 AM

16. He's a complex man

A couple of years ago I channel cruised into a bunch of GOP interns being schooled by Michael Steele. (CSPAN is a great invention.) What he said was not what I expected, and certainly was not what they expected.

One of them asked him about whether the GOP could convince voters of their moral compass — something along those lines. He burst out:”Oh hell no!” and went off on their utter gall and sheer hypocrisy in telling him who he could love, how to live his life, and all in all it was quite a rant. He talked at length about the section of the New Testament called The Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, as a moral core, unlike homophobia, racism, sexism, and obsessing about abortion while abandoning the needy after being born.

I very loosely paraphrase because it has been a couple of years. The phrase “Oh hell no!” is an exact quote, however.

(If every so-called Evangelical Christian in the US tried to live the core teachings of Jesus instead of sucking up the blasphemous Prosperity Gospel the GOP would wither and die for lack of adherents, and most people who are not Evangelicals know it.)

In the course if it he mentioned having studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood, which is much more deep and intellectually challenging than, say Jerry Fallwell’s “college.”

Didn’t mean to go on so long, but ever since then I’ve been interested in what he has to say, and on the occasion of RBG’s death, he knew the exact words.

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Response to Behind the Aegis (Reply #1)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 03:51 AM

15. on a post the other day, Someone mentioned that he hoped she will enjoy Heaven

to which I replied, she is Jewish, Not SURE they have a heaven. I am Buddhist... I am not sure we have one either! I know we have reincarnation...and I believe people will be some where else the next time around, whether it be here or on another planet. Its a huge Universe!

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Response to yuiyoshida (Reply #15)

Wed Sep 23, 2020, 01:37 PM

19. Even Chuck Schumer gestured skyward when saying he hoped RBG was looking down w approval...

...on the efforts of the Democrats to save her seat.

It’s America. Don’t look for consistency of detail in the broad culture of accepted sayings and gestures; it’ll make you crazy. Rather look for consistency within affinity-groups and depth in individuals. Works for me, anyway.

My husband is adamant that there’s no Heaven in Judaism. We’ve both studied Buddhism in our different ways, and one thing I do know is that “Heaven” depends on whether you belong to the Pure Land sect or not.

You are absolutely right: it’s a huge Universe.



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Response to Qutzupalotl (Original post)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 12:21 AM

2. This is beautiful and absolutely the way she should be remembered.

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Response to Qutzupalotl (Original post)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 12:35 AM

3. This took my breath away and I am so happy you shared this!

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Response to Qutzupalotl (Original post)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 12:59 AM

5. K&R

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Response to Qutzupalotl (Original post)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 01:03 AM

6. Thank you

I appreciate your explanation. Instead of just hearing the words, I feel them.

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Response to Qutzupalotl (Original post)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 02:29 AM

9. Thank you

Thank you for this post. You have raised my spirits.

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Response to Qutzupalotl (Original post)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 03:10 AM

11. Thank you

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Response to Qutzupalotl (Original post)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 03:19 AM

13. Thank you for posting that.

It is lovely and I can think of no better way to honor someone like her.

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Response to Qutzupalotl (Original post)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 04:49 AM

17. Thanks for beautiful words

May we become a credit to her name.

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Response to Qutzupalotl (Original post)

Tue Sep 22, 2020, 05:28 AM

18. K&R

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Response to Qutzupalotl (Original post)

Wed Sep 23, 2020, 01:43 PM

20. K, R & Bookmarked to read again later. n/t

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Response to Qutzupalotl (Original post)

Wed Sep 23, 2020, 02:00 PM

21. I read it in full just now, slowly. Thank you for this.

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