U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died due to complications of pancreatic cancer last Friday. She was the fourth-oldest serving U.S. Supreme Court Justice at 87 years old, and will be the first Jewish person and the first woman to lie in repose at the Supreme Court until she is buried. She died on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year; and six weeks before this year’s presidential election.
In wake of Ginsburg’s death, many celebrities and politicians have released statements giving their condolences. Thousands of people have flocked to the Supreme Court building to hold a vigil for Ginsburg.
However, many wishing to pay their respects are unaware of Jewish traditions.
Ginsburg was born to Conservative Jewish parents and though she was non-observant, she spoke many times on how her heritage affected her views.
“The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition,” she said in a speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2004. Ginsburg added that on three walls of her office, she had paintings of the command from Deuteronomy: “Zedek, zedek, tirdof — Justice, justice shall you pursue.”
Since Ginsburg was Jewish, it is important to use Jewish traditions to pay respects to her, rather than Christian ones. Here are some reminders, based on actions already seen at Ginsburg’s vigil and words from those mourning her elsewhere.
Don’t talk about heaven
Avoid using Christian-based phrases to pay tribute to Ginsburg, such as “heaven gained another angel” or “she’s in a better place.” Avoid singing Christian hymns like “Amazing Grace,” which was sung during the vigil last Friday. Even if it’s all you know, even if your heart is in the right place, it is still disrespectful to the memory of a Jewish woman to use Christian prayers, phrases and songs to mourn her.
A good phrase that has been going around is “may her memory be a revolution,” a play on the traditional Jewish phrase “may her memory be a blessing.” “Peace be upon her” is also acceptable. The Jewish concept of an afterlife is a bit more complicated, so it’s best to avoid reference to it altogether.
Stones versus flowers
If you are visiting the vigil at the Supreme Court or visiting Ginsburg’s grave, it is better to leave stones, rather than flowers. According to Chabad, “In life, people may enjoy the beauty of their physical surroundings, but when they die, all of their material possessions and beauty are meaningless and left behind.” For this reason (and a few others, which are more focused on Jewish law), it is inappropriate to leave flowers on a Jewish grave.
Leaving a stone on a gravestone lets others know that the grave has been visited, and stones do not decay the way flowers do. They also show that the memory of the deceased continues to live on through whoever leaves a stone.
Another good way to leave an offering is to donate to a charity in Ginsburg’s name. Democratic donation-processing site ActBlue raised $20 million during the first four hours after Ginsburg’s death.
Register to vote
This tradition is political, rather than religious, but is still important. Ginsburg’s death has raised a debate over whether her seat in the Supreme Court will be filled before or after the presidential election.
In 2016, Republicans argued that a vacant seat made by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death should not be filled until after that year’s presidential election, which was 9 months away at the time. This year, however, they are pushing to fill the seat as soon as possible, within 41 days.
Ginsburg’s dying wish was that she would “not be replaced until a new president is installed.” However, President Trump has announced that he plans to have a replacement for Ginsburg picked as soon as Saturday. The appointment of a conservative Supreme Court Justice, which is what many political outlets are predicting, will give Republicans six of the nine seats in the Supreme Court.
This controversy highlights why it is important to register to vote in this year’s presidential election. Whether you think Ginsburg should be replaced, the elections happening this semester will affect our country for the next four years. Voting for the next president, and voting down ballot for local elections, helps to bring about the future you want to see.
In honor of Ginsburg, who served on the Supreme Court for 27 years, we should follow the commandment she kept on the walls of her office — “Justice, justice, you shall pursue.”