The world learned of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death as Rosh Hashanah began — a holy time for Jews that has brought both comfort and special meaning to her death for some of her supporters.
Rosh Hashanah marks the start of the Jewish New Year. When someone dies then, “it feels like that person did not get another year,” book critic Ruth Franklin told USA TODAY on Friday.
Having another year to live was at the core of Ginsburg’s dying wish: That she not be replaced until a new president is elected. She often cited her Jewish heritage as a source for her passion for the plight of minorities.
But there’s an even deeper meaning for some Jews, said Franklin — a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.
“According to Jewish tradition, a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah, which began tonight, is a tzaddik, a person of great righteousness,” Franklin tweeted soon after the news of Ginsburg’s death broke.
NPR reporter Nina Totenberg explained the tradition on Twitter: “A Jewish teaching says those who die just before the Jewish new year are the ones God has held back until the last moment bc they were needed most & were the most righteous.”
It’s not the only point of significance. Because Ginsburg died Friday evening, her death occurred around the time Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, began.
“If one dies on any Shabbat they are considered a Tzadik … more so when it’s on the new year,” Rabbi Andrea London of Beth Emet synagogue in Evanston, Illinois told USA TODAY.
Activists, journalists and thousands of others have shared a similar sentiment since — connecting Ginsburg’s legacy as the nation’s preeminent litigator for women’s rights and the leader of the Supreme Court’s liberal contingent with the Jewish title of Tzadik. It’s a term reserved for those known for their righteous deeds.
The upcoming week is Jewish High Holy Days, which lead up to Yom Kippur – a time when Jews focus their attention on repentance and reflection of action.
Action is what comes to mind for Franklin as she reflects on Ginsburg’s death — a woman she described as a “groundbreaker in so many ways.”
Traditionally saying “may her memory be for a blessing,” is appropriate when a Jewish person has died. But in Ginsburg’s case, Franklin — and others — say something else: “May her memory be a revolution.”
Contributing: Carly Mallenbaum, USA TODAY; Dwight Adams, Indianapolis Star; The Associated Press