By Laura Seymour
We continue our exploration of tikkun olam. The Hebrew word tikkun means to “fix” or “heal” something that is broken; olam means “world.”
Tzedek is the mitzvah of doing justice. The words tzedek and tzedakah appear almost 300 times in the Torah. Jewish traditions teach that justice and compassion are two of the most important qualities for people to survive and live together.
Leviticus 19, also called the Holiness Code, says that being holy is being just. Elie Wiesel told this story: “A man who saw injustice in his city protested against it every day. One day someone asked why he continued to protest since no one was paying attention. The man answered, ‘In the beginning I thought I would change people, but now I continue so people will not change me.’”
Mitzvah hero of today’s world: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
When Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated with honors from Columbia Law School, not one law firm in New York would hire her because she was a woman. She became a pioneer in the fight for women’s legal rights and she argued six landmark cases on behalf of women before the Supreme Court.
President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court in 1993. Upon accepting the nomination, she spoke of her background.
“I am very sensitized to discrimination. I grew up at the time of World War II in a Jewish family. I have memories as a child…seeing a sign in front of a restaurant: ‘No dogs or Jews allowed.’ I have a last thank-you … to my mother. I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve, and daughters are cherished as much as sons.”
In our ancestor’s footsteps: Jewish Supreme Court justices
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the first Jewish female justice. However, many great American Jews have served the United States as lawyers and judges.
Louis Brandeis was the first Jewish Supreme Court justice from 1916-1939. He was nicknamed “The People’s Attorney” because he was an advocate of social and economic reforms. He was also a leading Zionist, and Brandeis University is named after him.
Benjamin Cardozo served on the Supreme Court from 1932-1938. The school of law at Yeshiva University is named after him. Felix Frankfurter served from 1939-1962 and he helped create the American Civil Liberties Union. Arthur Goldberg and Abe Fortas served in the 1960s, and Stephen Breyer was named to the court in 1994
The information for this summer’s weekly themes comes from “Jewish Heroes Jewish Values — Living Mitzvot in Today’s World by Barry L. Schwartz published by Behrman House, Inc., 1996.”
Family Talk Time
- Sometimes kids say that something isn’t fair — something a parent, teacher or coach decides. What does it mean to be fair? Think of some examples and then think of a way to decide what is fair. For example, when sharing a piece of cake, one person gets to cut and the other gets to choose first.
- Why is it so hard to be a judge? What does it mean to be “impartial”? What would make it difficult to judge someone. Can we judge ourselves? Why or why not?
- Making sure there is justice in the world is not the same as making sure there are judges. What is justice all about? Some people say that life isn’t always fair — is that fair?
Laura Seymour is director of youth and camping services at the Aaron Family JCC.