Elena Kagan’s Jewish Background: Just What Pat Buchanan FearsWhile former Republican Presidential Candidate Pat Buchanan wrote today that Kagan’s confirmation would lead to a Court that is too Jewish, those who are interested in Kagan’s Jewish background from a more positive perspective have been flooding NJDC’s offices with requests for more information. Scroll down to read some anecdotes about Kagan, as reported from various newspapers.
The New York Times wrote:
“She was a creature of Manhattan’s liberal, intellectual Upper West Side — a smart, witty girl who was bold enough at 13 to challenge her family’s rabbi over her bat mitzvah, cocky (or perhaps prescient) enough at 17 to pose for her high school yearbook in a judge’s robe with a gavel and a quotation from Felix Frankfurter, the Supreme Court justice.”
And in an additional article: “Elena Kagan was a star pupil in her Hebrew school on the Upper West Side. So it was not too surprising after she turned 12 that she wanted to mark her coming of age with a bat mitzvah.
The only problem was that the rabbi at her Orthodox synagogue, Shlomo Riskin, had never performed one.
‘Elena Kagan felt very strongly that there should be ritual bat mitzvah in the synagogue, no less important than the ritual bar mitzvah,’ Rabbi Riskin said, referring to the rite of passage for 13-year-old boys. ‘This was really the first formal bat mitzvah we had.’
But while Elena, the brainy, self-assured daughter of a lawyer and a schoolteacher, asked to read from the Torah on a Saturday morning, just as the boys did, it was not to be. Instead, her ceremony took place on a Friday night, May 18, 1973, and she read from the Book of Ruth, which she also analyzed in a speech.”
The Forward’s JJ Goldberg noted:
“… I’m still waiting to hear about is [sic] her late father’s service, according to The N.Y. Times, on the board of the West End Synagogue in Manhattan. By background, at least, this would make her the first Reconstructionist on the high court.”
And The Jerusalem Post reported:
“ [Abner] Mikva, whom Kagan praised in her remarks upon being nominated Monday, also told The Jerusalem Post how her sense of Jewishness connected to her work.
‘Her yiddishkeit, as I call it, informs her views on social justice and compassion and understanding what law is about,’ he said. ‘We the Jews invented the law, and it’s only fitting that someone of Jewish heritage would fall in love with the law and make it a career.’
Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz told the Post that that heritage has been one she has worn proudly, as ‘she never tries to hide her Jewish background.’
Dershowitz, who worked with her for the dozen or so years that she headed the law school, said he frequently saw her when he went to Conservative services held at the Harvard Hillel, calling her someone who clearly ‘knows how to daven’ and reads Hebrew.
Although he said that ‘she doesn’t see herself as a Jewish law professor or a Jewish justice,’ at the same time she ‘clearly identified positively as a Jew.’
Though he noted that he had never held a lengthy conversation with her about Israel, he said that ‘I think she would be generally supportive’ of the Jewish state and described her as ‘actively involved in moderate, liberal Judaism.’He added, ‘With a name like Kagan, she’s probably a kohen too.’”