Riskin: Kagan showed great wisdom in her youth

Chief rabbi of Efrat taught the Supreme Court nominee in Hebrew school.

By MEIRA BIENSTOCK
June 29, 2010 05:32
2 minute read.
ElenaKagan311

ElenaKagan311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

As Senate confirmation hearings began Monday for US Solicitor- General Elena Kagan’s appointment to America’s Supreme Court, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin recalled teaching the 12-year-old Kagan.

Riskin is the chief rabbi of Efrat, but made aliya in 1983 from Manhattan’s West Side, where he was the rabbi of Lincoln Square Synagogue.

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At the time, Riskin was teaching for the synagogue’s Feldman Hebrew School, where Kagan was a student. During a class there, he began explaining to his students that when a Jewish boy turns 12 he is considered to have begun his journey to adulthood and achieved maturity, and would then prepare for his bar mitzva. At the time, there was no similar ceremony for an Orthodox girl’s bat mitzva.

This didn’t satisfy Kagan. Riskin said she wanted to be able to read from the Torah in the sanctuary on Shabbat morning. Riskin explained to her that because the Lincoln Square Synagogue was Orthodox, this would not be possible.

However, an arrangement was worked out and Kagan was able to have her bat mitzva on Friday evening May 18, 1973, in the sanctuary. After the evening service, she was able read the Book of Ruth.

“She raised my consciousness about having a celebration for a woman achieving her age of responsibility, and I was also very impressed. Although I didn’t go as far as she would have liked me to go, I respected the fact that she was very respectful of my response and she went ahead with great elegance, charm, grace, and success,” Riskin told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

Riskin also imparted another story that he said conveyed Kagan’s character.

One Shabbat, a young man had finished leading the services for his bar mitzva. Riskin was passing through on his way to a classroom when he heard a soft crying from the now darkened sanctuary.

Approaching the young man who was crying (it was the boy who had just had his bar mitzva), he began consoling him.

The young man revealed that his two grandmothers had been arguing in front of him about who he should be sitting with at the luncheon, making him feel caught in the middle.

Riskin took the boy out to the luncheon and Kagan approached the boy. Realizing it was a difficult time for him, she invited him to sit next to her during the luncheon instead, settling the matter and giving the young man a positive experience at his bar mitzva.

“She showed great wisdom and sensitivity,” Riskin said. ”She certainly has only grown with the years. Wisdom of the mind and wisdom of the heart – those are the two most important things that a justice of a Supreme Court requires.”

As for Kagan’s confirmation hearings in the Senate, Riskin said, “I have very good reason to believe it’s going to go well.”


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