Brooklyn swears in nation’s first female Hasidic judge
Rachel “Ruchie” Freier made history in Brooklyn last week when she became the first-ever Hasidic woman to become a judge in the U.S. during an installation ceremony at Borough Hall in Downtown Brooklyn on Thursday.
“When Ruchie decided to run, I don’t think there was anybody anywhere who thought Ruchie was going to win,” said Hon. Noach Dear, who served as master of ceremonies for the event. “They said that Borough Park is never going to vote for a woman for judge. They got that wrong. One of the things I said to them [was] ‘Did you meet her yet? Meet her and tell me then.’ I met her a few years ago, and I said to myself that this is someone who is outstanding, she’s really good. She’s prepared and ready.”
Judge Freier, who graduated from Brooklyn Law School and founded an all-female EMT agency Ezras Nashim, was sworn in by her uncle David I. Schmidt, former justice of the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term. Hasidic performer Lipa Schmeltzer also performed the national anthem and “God Bless America” in Yiddish at the ceremony, where there were no shortage of friends and colleagues on hand to congratulate the new judge.
“This is a historical moment,” said Borough President Eric Adams. “To just allow the moment to go through as a swearing-in without understanding how important this day is to have the first woman Hasidic judge elected in Brooklyn that is an amazing achievement. It says so much to the young girls in this audience. They too can adorn the black robe and stand in judge of.”
While Judge Freier’s election to the judiciary may be the first for a Hasidic woman in modern times, the precedent for such female leadership was actually set during Biblical times.
The Book of Judges, Chapters 4 and 5, narrate the story of Deborah. She was considered a wise judge and prophetess, from the land of Ephraim, who ruled over the Jewish people after the warrior Joshua’s death. The people of Ephraim and surrounding towns respected and revered Deborah for her wisdom and judgment in mediating disputes among them. Remaining true to God and the Torah, Deborah helped deliver the Jews from the oppression and cruelty of the Caananites, first by calling on the people to repent of their idolatry, and then by commissioning an influential citizen named Barak as military commander on a campaign to crush the Canaanites. She entrusted the entire operation to God. The Jews proved victorious over the mightier Caananite army.
Many people spoke at the event including her father-in-law Rabbi Berish Freier; Rabbi Paysach Krohn; Hon. Frank Seddio, president of the Brooklyn Bar Association; Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Public Advocate Letitia James; and Assemblymember Joseph R. Lentol. All of them spoke about what a historic day it was and how well-qualified Judge Freier is.
“This is very difficult to stand here — I am ready to cry,” said Rabbi Freier, a Holocaust survivor who explained how living through that event made Freier’s ceremony so much more meaningful for him. “On the other hand, when I realize who sits next to me here, I really enjoy it. It’s a great joy and pleasure to stand here and speak to you about a special woman, who for the last 30 years has given of her whatever was needed for the community.”
“We have a great opportunity,” Seddio said. “People call it the glass ceiling, but the truth is that this was hard work and perseverance. It was the good guys winning, it was people with heart and soul, who care for people, who have brought Ruchie Freier here tonight as our judge. I want to tell you that being the first of anything is great, but it’s not that important. It’s what you are going to do from today on and I know that you will take advantage of the great talents that you have.”
When Judge Freier finally got an opportunity to speak, she spent most of her time thanking everyone who helped her to get elected to Brooklyn’s 5th Judicial District including the “three David’s” — her husband David Freier, her uncle Judge David I. Schmidt and King David.
“This is a dream,” Judge Freier said. “As a Hasidic woman from Borough Park, I am humbled, honored and grateful to address this illustrious audience. Observant Jews begin each day with a prayer of gratitude. Giving thanks is a central theme in Judaism. I thank you all. I wouldn’t be here today without all of you.”
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