Roberts on shared Jewish-American legal heritage

US Chief Justice addresses Jewish body for first time since taking office in 2005, recieves "Truth and Justice" award.

john roberts (photo credit: )
john roberts
(photo credit: )
US Chief Justice John Roberts appeared before the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly at its convention here last week, the first time he has addressed a Jewish body since assuming his role at the Supreme Court in 2005, according to the assembly. Roberts, who received a "Truth and Justice" award from the organization, spoke of the shared heritage of the Jewish tradition and the American legal structure. Referring to a series of friezes depicting great lawgivers, including Moses, Roberts said, "The friezes that surround the Supreme Court's courtroom provide a visible reminder that throughout history, progress in law, which is to say human progress, has been marked by a procession in which religion, morality and personal liberty have traveled together." He then drew a connection with the upcoming weekly Torah reading and his duties at the court, in a reference to the Jewish custom of making such associations. "For us it is an honor that someone with the stature of the chief justice of the United States would speak to the Rabbinical Assembly," said Joel Meyers, the assembly's executive vice president. But not everyone was as pleased with Roberts and the Rabbinical Assembly's decision to honor him. Susan Grossman, a rabbi from Maryland, objected to some of Roberts's positions, including a recent decision allowing a pregnancy termination technique labeled "partial-birth abortion" to be outlawed. That ruling stands in contrast to the Rabbinical Assembly's stance on the issue. "The Conservative movement is on record supporting choice and particularly protecting a women's life and health," Grossman said. "And choice is important in an environment where there are differences of opinion. Choice is an important safeguard to protect freedom of religion and freedom of conscience." She said that while "it's wonderful that the chief justice came to speak knowing our position on choice," and that it's "worthwhile to hear different perspectives," she was worried that because the assembly was giving him the award, Roberts and others might draw the wrong conclusions about where the assembly stood on key issues. "I don't want the public to think that we are abandoning our historical commitment to women's health and to the voiceless in society and the commitment to separation of church and state," she said. Grossman spoke about the issue with other female rabbis at the start of the multi-day conference, some of whom shared her concerns. But Jan Kaufman, a rabbi who organized the conference, said most of the assembly was pleased to honor Roberts. Kaufman said that she, too, was "very strongly pro-choice," but that "I harbor no illusions that everyone has to agree with me. There are plenty of people who are plenty smart who don't." She said she was "wowed" by the experience of welcoming Roberts to the assembly, and that though his speech, at eight minutes, was short, "It left us hungering for more - good for him."