(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
At the time, Riskin was teaching for the synagogue’s
Feldman Hebrew School, where Kagan was a student. During a class there,
explaining to his students that when a Jewish boy turns 12 he is
have begun his journey to adulthood and achieved maturity, and would
prepare for his bar mitzva. At the time, there was no similar ceremony
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
Riskin explained to her that because the Lincoln Square Synagogue was
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
sanctuary. After the evening service, she was able read the Book of
“She raised my consciousness about having a celebration for a woman
achieving her age of responsibility, and I was also very impressed.
didn’t go as far as she would have liked me to go, I respected the fact
was very respectful of my response and she went ahead with great
charm, grace, and success,” Riskin told The Jerusalem Post on
Riskin also imparted another story that he said conveyed Kagan’s
One Shabbat, a young man had finished leading the services for
his bar mitzva. Riskin was passing through on his way to a classroom
heard a soft crying from the now darkened sanctuary.
young man who was crying (it was the boy who had just had his bar
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
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
“She showed great wisdom and sensitivity,” Riskin said. ”She
certainly has only grown with the years. Wisdom of the mind and wisdom
heart – those are the two most important things that a justice of a
As for Kagan’s confirmation hearings in the Senate,
Riskin said, “I have very good reason to believe it’s going to go well.”