Supreme Court Quietly Corrects Mistake in Justice Kagan’s “Very Jewish Dissent”

May 17th, 2014

Nobody’s perfect at one First Street. Shortly after Town of Greece v. Galloway, Yair Rosenberg of Tablet Magazine found a factual error in what he called Justice Kagan’s “very jewish dissent.” She referred to the Jewish community in Rhode Island as “the first community of American Jews.” This isn’t accurate. The first American Jews arrived in 1654, but the Newport Congregation did not begin until 1750. Yair explains:

While I hate to quibble with Justice Kagan’s laudable–if debatable–effort to bring the Jewish story to bear on contemporary jurisprudence, setting aside the merits of her argument, Kagan made a small but important factual error. Newport was not “the home of the first community of American Jews.” That distinction belongs to New Amsterdam, where Jews fleeing persecution settled in 1654, and quickly established a flourishing community despite many obstacles, as recounted by Jonathan Sarna in his Yale University Press book American Judaism. (Newport is home to the country’s oldest standing synagogue, where Kagan spokelast year, which may have been the source of the confusion.)

Hopefully, the Court will rectify this error, not only for the sake of history, but because it makes Kagan’s point all the more poignant. By acknowledging New Amsterdam and its inter-religious struggles, perhaps parenthetically, the closing anecdote would become an appeal to today’s New York to remember the lessons of its colonial roots.

Here was the section from the original opinion:


And, at some point, the Court corrected this error. Here is the revised opinion:


Down the memory hole it goes. And no one beat up on her like they did to Justice Scalia.