gender equality Social Justice

Creating Workplace Equity that Reflects Jewish Values

Rabbi Mary L. Zamore, executive director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, reflects on ethical employment practices and offers a variety of resources to help Jewish workplaces achieve these standards.

In the Jewish community, many frequently describe our places of employment as having cultures like family. However, if we really want to honor the dedicated people who serve as the backbones of our institutions, we must develop the most professional and equitable employment policies and procedures possible. We must ensure equitable hiring, supervision, and promotion; we must create safe, respectful communities. This will honor not only our employees, but also our volunteers, members, and participants. In this manner, we will create cultures in which all can flourish.

For secular employees in the United States, the gender-based wage gap persists. According to a Pew Research Center report, it has barely narrowed in the past two decades. In 2022, American women typically earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men; this ratio has remained almost the same since 2002, when women earned 80 cents to the dollar. The gap is much wider for women of color. For example, in 2022, Black women earned 70 percent as much as White men, and Hispanic women earned only 65 percent.

Unfortunately, the wage gap also persists in Reform Jewish congregations. The Reform Pay Equity Initiative (RPEI), a project of the seventeen organizations of the Reform Movement and led by Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) and Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN), gathers data from the five professional organizations of the Reform Movement. This aggregation reveals a gender-based wage gap consistent with secular data.

Professional and lay leaders in each Jewish workplace should examine the RPEI data in order to ascertain if their female-identified employees, as well as those of other protected identity groups, are treated fairly and equitably. The question is not just “do we pay our employees fairly?” but “how do we know for sure that we are creating equity in our workplaces and thus living up to our Jewish values?” This drive for equity also requires that hiring, supervision, and promotion are conducted in the most professional manner and result in unbiased employment practices.

To ensure equity in our Jewish workplaces, we must guarantee that all employees have access to paid family and medical leave. With federal laws failing to provide paid leave, the secular American workplace is an outlier among developing and developed countries. Although the situation is improving at the state level, religious institutions are exempt from these laws. Therefore, the moral imperative is on Jewish leaders to provide clearly communicated, robust paid leave for people of all genders who are growing their families or whose loved ones are experiencing medical challenges. WRN’s paid family leave resource provides accessible information and model language for employment contracts and employee handbooks. This free resource explains that every employee should receive twelve weeks of paid leave.

Finally, our congregations and institutions must be safe, harassment-free, respectful communities for employees and all who interact with these organizations in any capacity. Every congregation and institution should have an ethics policy, which is constantly broadcast to all who gather either virtually or in person. In addition, staff and board members must be trained in the procedures that support the policies. Admittedly, upholding good-quality ethics policies can be difficult. It may require standing up to individuals who otherwise are valued in our communities and letting them know that their harmful behavior will not be tolerated. It may even mean asking these productive perpetrators to leave our communities.[i] It is vital that boards and leaders plan and practice procedures and are prepared to act. The Union for Reform Judaism has a complete resource, as well as professionals and lay leaders, to help congregations study and write an ethics code. Sacred Spaces, an organization dedicated to preventing institutional abuse in the Jewish community, has created Keilim, an online, self-guided policy toolkit. In addition, the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ “The Clergy Monologues” and ARJE’s “The Educator Monologues,” with accompanying study guides (Clergy and Educator), are conversation-starting tools to reflect on gender bias in Jewish spaces.

When we describe our Jewish workplaces as “like family,” we unwittingly send the message that our synagogues and institutions do not need to uphold the highest professional standards for ethical employment as informed by our Jewish values and secular laws. As Reform Jews, we can apply our communal passion for egalitarianism and social justice to safeguard every Reform Movement employee and ensure their access to safe, harassment-free, respectful workplaces. Dedicating ourselves to this goal is the greatest way to honor and celebrate our workers this Labor Day.

Rabbi Mary L. Zamore is the executive director of the Women’s Rabbinic Network. She is the editor of The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic and The Sacred Exchange: Creating a Jewish Money Ethic, both published by CCAR Press.

[i] Productive perpetrators are professional or lay people who contribute to our communities through time, talent, money, knowledge, or social capital. Yet they harm others through bullying or harassment. See Harassment-Free Jewish Spaces: Our Leaders Must Answer to a Higher Standard (RavBlog).


5 Things To Do When Developing Your Congregational Code of Ethics

It’s hard to overstate the importance of maintaining the highest ethical standards in our sacred work together. In light of this reality, the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) joined our Movement partners – the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), American Conference of Cantors (ACC) and National Association for Temple Administration (NATA) – and adopted a formal ethics code in 2017.

The URJ Ethics Code applies to URJ volunteers, most notably North American Board members. However, for lack of jurisdiction, it doesn’t apply to conduct inside a URJ member congregation.

Yet we know our synagogues are challenged by unethical conduct. In fact, the URJ Knowledge Network regularly receives inquiries from congregations about ethical issues that have surfaced in their community. And when individuals engage in inappropriate or unethical conduct, they both harm others and damage the community itself.

To maintain the synagogue as a sacred space and a spiritual home for all who enter its doors, everyone in the community – members, lay leaders, clergy and professional staff – must act according to Reform Jewish values. Towards this end, the URJ strongly encourages congregations to develop and implement a code of ethics that all understand they must adhere to if they wish to participate in the community. To support our congregations in this effort, a URJ task force developed resources for congregations wanting to develop their own code of ethics.

Such a code demonstrates that the entire community aspires to act according to the highest ethical standards, gives your congregation an opportunity to examine its values, and preserves and reinforces the integrity of the synagogue as a sacred – and safe – institution for all. It also informs members of acceptable standards of individual behavior and provides clear guidelines to help them determine if their actions and synagogue decision-making are, indeed, ethical.

As leaders of their spiritual communities, rabbis are uniquely positioned to make creating a synagogue ethics code a congregational priority. Doing so alongside their temple presidents, rabbis can also model sacred partnership, which itself is a foundational element of a healthy and ethical synagogue culture.

Here are five specific actions to consider as your congregation develops and implements a code of ethics:

1. Obtain leaders’ buy-in.

Lay and professional leaders should clearly articulate and endorse the need for an ethics code and support its development and implementation. When possible, temple leadership should establish a dedicated team or task force – representative of the congregation’s composition – to construct the ethics code, engage key stakeholders, and report regularly on the process and progress-to-date.

Once it’s been developed, synagogue leaders should inform and educate the entire community about the code in a way that reflects the congregation’s culture. Ultimately, the board should ratify the final document – with an understanding that it’s a “living document” that, based on experience, periodically will need to be reviewed and revised.

2. Determine the breadth of the code.

Consider whether the code of ethics will apply only to lay leader volunteers and professional staff or to every member of the synagogue community and whether certain provisions need apply only to partners with financial responsibilities.

Complaints of ethics violations against individuals who are members of a Reform Movement professional organization – CCAR, ACC, or NATA – should be referred to the specific organization’s ethics committee.

3. Select values to highlight.

The foundation of your code of ethics should rest on a set of well-articulated Jewish values. To determine which values your congregation wants to highlight, you may wish to reference your existing values statement and/or conduct an evaluation with lay and professionals stakeholders to determine your community’s top values. Whenever possible, ground the supporting values in Jewish texts.

4. State desired behaviors.

Your ethics code should go beyond describing unethical conduct and include desired behaviors as well. For example, regarding financial management, you may note an unethical behavior that is prohibited such as, “Misappropriation of synagogue funds for unauthorized use.” A corresponding desired behavior might be “Scrupulously and transparently handle synagogue assets.”  In addition, be sure your code of ethics complies with local, state/provincial, and federal legal statutes.

5. Position the code as a brit or covenant.

Framing the congregational code of ethics as a brit, or covenant, will remind those to whom it applies of their responsibility to maintain a sacred relationship with their synagogue community. You might consider including the ethics code in new member membership packets and post it on the synagogue’s website. Lastly, your congregation is encouraged to sign this brit with the URJ to demonstrate your commitment to ensuring respectful and safe congregations and communities.

To learn more about developing a code of ethics, visit the Congregational Ethics Codes group, or search the #CongregationalEthics topic tag in The Tent. Here you can access a detailed resource for creating your own code of ethics, view a sample template of an ethics code, and collaborate with other congregations engaged in this endeavor.

Dr. Steve Weitz is a past president and current trustee at Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, NJ. He is a URJ vice chair and chair of the URJ Ethics Council.  He serves on the Oversight Committee and the North American Board of Trustees of the Union for Reform Judaism. He is also a member of the CCAR Ethics Process Review Committee.


Confidentiality in the Ethics Process

What is confidentiality in the CCAR ethics process, and how does it differ from other settings, such as pastoral counseling? Recently, several people—rabbis, participants in ethics cases, members of congregations—have asked questions about the nature of confidentiality in the CCAR ethics process. In particular, several asked whether the names of complainants, victims or witnesses are ever made public. The short answer is no: CCAR does not disclose publicly the names of complainants, victims or witnesses.

Confidentiality is often assumed to be a blanket non-disclosure.  But in different settings, confidentiality means different things.  For example, in a pastoral counseling setting, confidentiality goes to the heart of the congregant’s expectation of privacy between the congregant and the rabbi (or minister).  In fact, that privacy even is recognized in the law as a “priest-penitent privilege” that prevents disclosure of those conversations except in special circumstances.   

The goal of the CCAR process is to help rabbis and communities achieve their aspirational values that reflect the very best of the rabbinate and the community, including sacred and safe communities with rabbis who live up to their highest moral values. Confidentiality in the ethics process is designed to achieve these goals and allow an ethics committee to do its work in a way that is fair, protective, and safe. (As I have written about in other settings, the CCAR ethics process is an ecclesiastical process, not analogous to a legal trial court.)

The CCAR ethics process is one in which the CCAR determines if a rabbi has violated the Code of Ethics.  Someone (an individual or a congregation) begins the process by filing a complaint with the CCAR against a rabbi. Then, the rabbi responds to the complaint, and the process moves forward.  At this point, the process is confidential out of respect for the privacy and reputation of everyone connected to it—parties, witnesses, victims, and potential victims. But it is not secret. 

There’s an important difference.  “Secret” means that nothing is shared and everything is out of the public eye. By contrast, a “confidential” process is one in which information gathered during the process is not broadly disseminated except to others involved in the process so that the Ethics Committee can do its work to determine if a rabbi violated the Code of Ethics. 

To achieve our goals, the CCAR does not publicly identify victims, witnesses or complainants at any stage in the process.  We continue to respect their request for privacy throughout the process and even after it is concluded.

However, adjudications of Code violations that lead to public censure, suspension or expulsion of a rabbi are not kept confidential. In fact, these actions are publicly disclosed on the CCAR website.  

The Code explicitly dictates what information must be disclosed and to whom.  To begin the process, “complaints must be written and include the names of all parties involved.”  (VI.B.1.) The complaint is shared with the rabbi.  Thus, the names of the parties—the complainant and the rabbi—are disclosed to one another and to the Ethics Committee from the outset of a complaint.

While the CCAR Ethics process is ongoing, we ask that everyone connected to it honor the confidentiality of the process.  Confidentiality better assures that the parties and witnesses will provide information and the victims feel they have a safe place to share their experiences.

Yet asking someone, such as a complainant or victim or rabbi, to respect the confidentiality of the process certainly does not mean that people, especially victims, should not talk with their immediate family or close friends about what they have experienced, and it does not prevent anyone from seeking spiritual, emotional, or professional support.  We know that can be of importance to a person’s health and healing.

When it comes to complainants, witnesses, and victims, we may also need to protect them from fear of retaliation or humiliation in some instances.  As written by one of the leaders in the field of clergy misconduct,  “shooting the messenger is a common response to the revelation of unethical conduct.” (Is Nothing Sacred, Marie Fortune) This concern is another reason why we do not disclose publicly the names of the complainants, victims or witnesses.

The CCAR process continues to evolve and improve over time with the input of many people, including those of the rabbis, complainants, and victims themselves.  We especially are proud that lay leaders have joined with rabbis in the ethics process:  on the Ethics Committee which receives complaints and adjudicates; on Fact Gathering Teams, which gather information from complainants, rabbis, and witnesses; on the Ethics Board of Appeals, which hears appeals from an adjudication; and on the Ethics Process Review Committee, which proposes changes to the Code of Ethics.

CCAR members aspire to exhibit the very best of the rabbinic tradition.  The Ethics Code and process reflect those aspirations.

Rabbi Steven A. Fox is the Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

General CCAR

What is Unique About the CCAR Ethics Code

The CCAR Code of Ethics is an “ecclesiastical” system, based on religious principles and our lived experience and shared expectations as rabbis.  The Code has among its goals maintaining safe and sacred communities served by rabbis who live up to the highest moral values.  When a rabbi fails to do so, the Code provides a process to address the needs of the community, any possible victims, the rabbi’s family, and the broader Jewish community.  The system of T’shuvah, Rehabilitation and Counseling is designed for a rabbi’s possible return to health and wholeness, and we hope to rabbinic service.

As conversations take hold in the national media of how companies are responding to allegations of misbehavior, it’s important to take a step back and recognize the way our obligations align and differ from those of other environments. The Human Resources/legal (HR) system is designed to moderate the employer/employee relationship.  Civil law sets out the substance of the law and the procedures that must be followed.   To protect the employer and employee, that system is aimed at a different set of issues: It addresses the rights of an employee to certain protections and processes when employers take action to discipline employees. Rabbis and congregations are in direct contract with one another, and the congregation makes HR/legal decisions like any other employer. CCAR is not the employer of Rabbis.  CCAR is an association of member Rabbis, whose members have agreed to the Code of Ethics and the processes under it.

The HR/ legal system is normally limited by the specific charge brought against an individual.  It is a system that is rooted in law, facts, circumstances, and, importantly, the ability to prove or deflect the proof of wrongdoing.  In that system, an individual can use all procedures and techniques allowed by the law, even to bar evidence that may prove wrongdoing.

The CCAR Ethics system, on the other hand, is rooted in the Code of Ethics to which all rabbis agree to abide and to which we hold one another accountable, even when there is no legal violation.  Unlike some HR/legal processes, we take into consideration all information that the Ethics Committee learns from all possible sources.  We are not limited by the admissibility of evidence in law.  Further, the rabbi cannot limit the outcome of a case by trying to manipulate the evidence as can occur in the civil law.   Also, we are not limited to the “four corners of the complaint” (i.e. only that which is alleged to have happened). We look at the issues and behavior.  For example, if a complaint comes in that alleges that a rabbi created a hostile work environment due to an anger management issue, and in the course of that it is discovered that there was also sexual misconduct, the CCAR can proceed to investigate and adjudicate the discovered issues.

Our system allows us determine whether an individual remains fit for the rabbinate and capable of serving a congregation or organization or individuals.

The Code of Ethics goes to personal failings, personal boundaries that guide relationships, and ways in which we regulate prudent human behavior.  What follows are two examples, one dealing with sexual boundaries, and one with money.

This first example, a sexual boundary violation under the Code of Ethics has a wide breadth, and can include anything from inappropriate language to a consensual extramarital affair to sexual abuse (some of which fall outside of a HR/legal system). Let’s look at the issue of “consent”.  Let’s say, hypothetically, there is a male/female relationship.  In most legal and HR cases, if an individual consents to a relationship, the allegations made by the victim of harassment will usually end.  In that system, the showing of consent can absolve the purported perpetrator.   However, in our system, consent does not end charges of sexual boundary violation by a rabbi.  Thus, for example, even in a “consensual” relationship, if either party is married, it will be a violation of the Code of Ethics by the rabbi.  We look at many issues of the dynamic of a relationship between a rabbi and a lay person, including abuse of power, real and symbolic authority, and other behaviors which, even if they are “legally” consensual, might still exploit the vulnerability of a victim or compromise the moral integrity of a rabbi.

The second example is financial.  In a legal system, when there are allegations of financial mismanagement or a diversion of funds, evidence must rise to the level of proof of the actual diversion.  In our system, the Code of Ethics provides that even an “appearance” of financial misconduct can constitute a violation.  This goes to the issues of imprudence.  We seek to protect the integrity of the rabbinate, or a rabbi’s discretionary fund, and even the intent of the donor.  This applies even if there is no legal diversion.

The CCAR Ethics Code is a complaint driven system—someone must bring a complaint against a rabbi to start the process.  The Ethics Committee first determines if there is sufficient evidence to adjudicate immediately.  For example, in a situation where a rabbi acknowledges the truth of the allegations and admits his/her violation of the Code of Ethic, the Ethics Committee can adjudicate. Or, if the Committee has questions, it can look further. If there is not sufficient information to adjudicate, the Ethics Committee appoints a Fact Gathering Team who will meet with the complainant, rabbi, and other potential witnesses such as congregational leaders, spouses, congregants, and others.  Once sufficient information is obtained to adjudicate, the Fact Gathering Team refers the matter back to the Ethics Committee for adjudication.  If the rabbi is found in violation of the Code, the rabbi then has thirty days to appeal.   Notice of the adjudication of a Censure, Suspension or Expulsion is sent to the rabbi, the victim, and the rabbi’s congregation or organizational supervisor.

Unlike an HR setting, the CCAR does not have the power to remove a rabbi from his or her rabbinic position.  If a rabbi appears to be a “serious danger to others”, the Ethics Committee will notify the rabbi’s supervisor or congregational President and “urge that the rabbi be removed from rabbinic function prior to the investigation.”

Only after adjudication can the CCAR place restrictions on a rabbi prohibiting him/her from functioning as a rabbi in the community.  Again, here we have a limitation also.  The CCAR does not have the power to defrock a rabbi.  If the rabbi resigns from the CCAR (leading to an expulsion) the rabbi can independently hang out a shingle and seek rabbinic employment. For that reason, we prefer to suspend rabbis rather than expel them, because while suspended they remain accountable to our ethics code. If, however, a Rabbi refuses to cooperate or resigns rather than follow the Ethics process, that Rabbi is expelled and the expulsion will be announced.   Lastly, even after a rabbi completes a rehabilitation process, notice of Censure, Suspension and Expulsion is given to a prospective employer.

Importantly, lay leaders join with rabbis on the CCAR ethics committees:  the Ethics Committee (which receives complaints and adjudicates), the Ethics Appeals Board (which hears appeals from an adjudication) and the Ethics Process Review Committee (which proposes changes to the Ethics Code).  Lay leaders also are on the fact gathering teams that investigate complaints.

As we deal with any painful issue of rabbinic misconduct,  it is important to distinguish between what the CCAR Code of Ethics is and what it cannot be. Clearly, the Code of Ethics is not a legal document written by a group of lawyers trying to protect employees and the employer, whose relationships ends when an employee is terminated or leaves. Rather, the Code of Ethics is a system of rabbinic accountability to which we, as rabbis and members of the CCAR, have voluntarily agreed to live by in order to uphold the highest ideals of Jewish ethics. In this task we will continue to persevere.

Rabbi Steven A. Fox is the Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. 

Ethics Prayer

“Rabbi, How Can I Pray if I Don’t Believe in God?”

Many of us find it difficult to think of the world as having any kind of metaphysical aspect to it at all. But if that’s the case, then there’s no room for God if the empirical world is all there is. And if that is the case, then why should we pray?

Consider the Sh’ma, for example. It is a Biblical text that we recite in each of our services: Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad. Hear, O Israel, the Lord Your God the Lord is one. That’s what it means – it gets called the ‘watchword of our faith’ in the old Union Prayer Book, because it’s a foundational text for us. If you don’t believe in God, how can this statement be meaningful to you?

There is a way to approach it even if you don’t want to adopt a grand metaphysical view of the world. Let me explain.

The first word is often translated as ‘Hear’ – but it could also be translated as ‘Listen’ or ‘Pay heed.’ That means: don’t just hear it, but put down your phone or your magazine, stop thinking about something else, and really listen. This is important. Are you fully present? Are you fully engaged?

Listen, Israel. The Lord, your God.

‘The Lord’ is actually a euphemism. We are avoiding saying what’s literally written there. The text says Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh, which is the unpronounceable name of God. It’s God’s first name, if you will, and only the High Priest may say on Yom Kippur. Otherwise, we say Adonai in place of that unpronounceable name. Adonai is our way of addressing the transcendent divine creator – the God of everyone – in the context of our own uniquely Jewish relationship.

But you could also think of it as the name for the creative force in the world, the energy that drives evolution forward that allows chemical reactions to become life. You could decide to say ‘my Lord’ instead of ‘blind chance.’ You are naming a process here; it does not have to be a person.

The Lord is one.

When we say that the Lord, Adonai, is one, echad – what does that mean?

The point of saying echad is the idea that God is singular. By singular we mean unique, unlike anyone or anything else. Extraordinarily different. Transcending time and space, beyond our definitions of it, more than our imaginations allow.

This might not seem like a particularly important point, but it is actually most crucial. When we try to define God – when we try to tame our God-concepts so that they might be comprehensible – we imagine things that are not God.

It’s like creating a small box and asking God to step inside so that we might carry God around with us like a good-luck charm.

God is so much bigger, and grander, and wilder than our charms and incantations. What most folks call ‘God’ is just a subset of the whole.

What do you do, then, if that’s a bigger statement than you want to make? Is it necessary to take it literally? Perhaps you might think of it this way: every human being is created in the image of God.

Imagine, then, that it says, ‘Listen, O Israel: every human being, your fellow-humans, every human being is singular.’ Take that message to heart and act upon it.

In other words: if you find it too much, to grand, to foolish to contemplate God, the universe, and everything in the macro scale, then think about God in the microcosm. Value human life, each individual you meet. Listen carefully when people talk. Put down your phone, and stop thinking about what you are going to say next, and listen. Every human being is singular, created in the very image of God. Listen.

If you listen long enough, eventually you might see that person as an individual, rather than as an example of a category. A person rather than a stereotype.

In other words, if you are not sure how to love God with all of your heart, all of your mind, and all of your being, then direct your attention to the individuals around you, find what is godly in them, and love them for it.

Rabbi Kari Tuling, PhD., serves Temple Beth Israel in Plattsburgh, New York and teaches at SUNY Plattsburgh.

Ethics Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

Lobbying for Immigration in Sacramento: Reform CA in Action

What does it mean to be part of a movement? What could it look like if we actually moved together?

On Thursday May 23rd forty-two Californian Reform Jews answered that question as we gathered in Sacramento for a day of lobbying and learning. A beautiful mix of clergy and community members, we took our message of justice and equality to the State Capitol. Our day was filled with individual lobby visits to thirty Assembly Members and state Senators as well as a meeting with Governor Brown’s office and with Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. That morning, as we stood together on the steps of the Capitol, preparing ourselves for this ambitious day of meetings, we offered words of prayer. Rabbi Jason Gwasdoff from Stockton reminded us that although we pray in separate synagogues, we offer the same words, to the same God, for the same reasons. As we sang Shehecheyanu, we not only thanked God for bringing us to the Capitol to do justice, we thanked God for bringing us together as a movement.

It was the first lobby day of Reform CA, a new initiative for the California Reform Movement to act powerfully together for justice in our state. Over the past 18 months, more than 120 Reform rabbis and communities have come together to create Reform CA with a goal of restoring the California dream.  Once upon a time, California represented openness, fairness, and equality; progressive thought, investment in education and infrastructure, and cutting edge innovation. A family could move to our state, afford a home, send their children to excellent, publicly-funded schools and colleges, and find meaningful, well-paying jobs. Some of us remember living the California dream, while others of us grew up hearing stories of the California that once was. As a project of all the social justice initiatives of the Reform Movement: the Peace and Justice Committee of the CCAR, the Religious Action Center, and the Union for Reform Judaism’s Just Congregations, we feel called to come together as a Movement to play a role in repairing the California dream. We are joining with one another to address systemic issues of injustice that hurt our families and our brothers and sisters across lines of race, class, and faith. As Rabbis who were ordained together and work down the street from one another, it took Reform CA and our collective passion to act for justice to bring us together and reignite within us the that flame of partnership.

We were in Sacramento to press for just immigration reform in our state, specifically passage of the TRUST Act, which would remedy the effect of the Secure Communities program, a federal law which has created a climate of fear in the immigrant community and has adversely affected law enforcement’s ability to make our towns, cities and state safer. Currently, immigrants picked up by police for minor misdemeanors – something as small as a broken taillight – can be held for deportation. The TRUST Act will help address the shortcomings in our current immigration system by permitting deportation holds on undocumented immigrants only if they have a serious or violent felony. This legislation will restore the trust between immigrant communities and local police and aid the continued fighting of crime in California’s towns and cities.

We learn in Pirke Avot, “Do not separate yourself from the community,” but our immigrant brothers and sisters are forced to live in the shadows and separate themselves from the community and the California dream. We hope that we will continue to march together on the path of justice as we exit the walls of our individual institutions and join together as a unified movement.

 Rabbi Rachel Timoner is Associate Rabbi at Leo Baeck Temple, Los Angeles, CA.

Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds is Associate Rabbi at University Synagogue, Los Angeles, CA.


Reform CA Sacramento Lobby Day


CCAR on the Road Ethics Israel

Israel: Reaffirming Hope

This past January I had the privilege of serving as the co-chair, along with Arnie Gluck, of the CCAR’s trip to Israel.  One of the foci of the trip was social justice in Israel, and as the trip approached, I grew increasingly concerned that I was about to spend a week hearing about everything that is going wrong in a land I love.  I am delighted that the feeling with which I returned was hope.  And last week, the CCAR Convention’s panel on Israel reaffirmed that hope.   While Israel’s challenges are profound, many of the people in Israel who are working to address them, including our colleagues, are deeply inspiring.

MK Ruth Calderon
MK Ruth Calderon

One of the biggest problems in Israel is the treatment of women.  But panelist David Siegel, who serves as the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles (serving all of Southwestern USA), delivered a message of careful optimism.  He referred to one of my role models, Dr. Ruth Calderon, whose introductory speech in the Knesset has now been viewed on YouTube almost 225,000 times. If you have not yet watched it, drop everything, and do so now (there are subtitles).

MK Ruth Calderon’s speech demonstrated the power of so many things that I hold dear: Jewish teaching, progressive Judaism, strong female leaders, the ability of words to touch lives.  Her speech was a potent reminder that sometimes strength lies not in physical force, but in being a great teacher.  And that gives me hope.

The international attention to her speech has been analyzed along with the response to the arrests of participants in Women of the Wall (WOW), signaling that there is not only an increased awareness of women’s issues in Israel, but that there is enough momentum for us to engage in a discussion of both values and tactics. Panelist Rabbi Dr. Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, our incoming National Director of Recruitment and Admissions and President’s Scholar at HUC, is a staunch supporter of WOW, and pointed out how their struggle has become a case study in some of the most salient questions facing Israel, including the role of women, the legitimacy of non-Orthodox Judaism, and the relevance of diaspora Jewry.  I am not so naïve as to think that these issues will be quickly and easily resolved, but as women in Israel are standing up in the Knesset and at the Kotel, Jews around the world are paying attention.

It is quite possible that, as Rabbi Gilad Kariv (IMPJ’s Executive Director) suggested at the panel, the increased attention to WOW, which has been active for 25 years, is partly due to

Women of the Wall
Women of the Wall

Jerusalem’s illegally segregated buses.  There is a lot that must be done to combat gender segregation in Israel, but I am encouraged by the work of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), which won the supreme court battle to make segregation on public buses illegal, and has sent hundreds of “Freedom Riders” (including our CCAR group in January) to monitor whether the anti-harassment and anti-segregation laws are being upheld.

Adding to the influence of these politicians, activists, and advocates, are Israeli Reform rabbis serving in congregations, including Rabbi Maya Leibowitz of Kehilat Mevasseret Zion.  She said at the panel that these rabbis “are change agents for the soul of the country.”  As they help their congregants reclaim a Jewish spiritual life, they are also helping them to reclaim a message about social justice that is deeply rooted in our tradition.

Before closing the panel, Rabbi Gluck solicited the panelists’ requests to American Reform Rabbis.  These included:

  • In messaging on Israel, tough love is good, but it can’t always be tough–when we criticize Israel, we also need to say what we’re proud of
  • Engage all levels of government
  • Bring Israel to the pulpit
  • Teach our communities about not just the start-up nation, but the “bottom up״ nation
  • Strengthen the commitment of Reform Jews to Israel, particularly by arranging home hospitality when we bring congregants to Israel
  • Remember that WZO elections are vital in Israel and encourage our congregants to register to vote
  • Send our young adults on Birthright trips
  • Join WOW at the Kotel for Rosh Chodesh
  • Don’t stop asking where the check is for Rabbi Miri Gold, whose historic victory in June 2012 entitled her to government funding for her work that she has not yet received
  • Continue to support Israeli institutions that are doing great work, and invest in the Movement.

David Siegel, Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, Gilad Kariv, and Maya Leibowitz each, in their own way, provided sophisticated analysis of Israel’s challenges, but also provided hope, and the inspiration to act on it.

 Rabbi Ariana Silverman serves Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, MI.

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Arming Rabbis? Not in My Time, I Pray.

Yes, I have fired a gun on more than one occasion; most recently at a training range on a Kibbutz in Israel* in 2009 and early on as a teenager at target practice with a friend and his dad.  The experiences unnerved me; the echoing boom, the kick of the weapon and even more, the thought that the gun I fired, no matter how small, had the potential to take a human life.

Mourning in Newtown, CT
Mourning in Newtown, CT

My limited experience with weapons affirms for me the sentiments I have been hearing these past two weeks from my colleagues, friends and so many grieving families across the nation.  Guns are far too easy to use — and misuse — and we must continue to demand from Congress reasonable regulations for guns and assault weapons.

The “solution” suggested last week by the NRA- placing armed guards in schools- is beyond absurd. Even since Newtown there have been other mass shootings, including in a church, to which Gail Collins of the NY Times said in context of the NRA’s comment, “We will await the next grand plan for arming ministers.”

Not in my time, I pray- may we not see armed ministers, rabbis or school security guards.

For decades the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) has decried “the power of the NRA in controlling the debate on gun control” (2000) and called upon “the U.S. Congress to eschew the support of the NRA and to vote their support of stringent gun-control legislation”(1987).

Our resolution has not changed; we continue to support meaningful gun control legislation that will stem these senseless episodes of mass violence.  In the CCAR’s recent public statement about the Newtown shootings, we expressed our condolences to whose who suffered losses, sympathies for those wounded, and fear that the NRA will continue to thwart not just legislation, but even conversation, about the need to stop the gun violence.

But expressing these feelings is not enough.

Reform Rabbis who are on the front lines of Jewish communal life can join together, and with clergy of other faiths, to advocate in support of meaningful gun control nationwide and in their own communities- (studies indicate that “states with strong gun laws and low rates of gun ownership had far lower rates of firearm-related death”).  At the CCAR we remain committed to providing rabbis with resources on ways that they may advocate and organize, such as in partnership with Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center.

Importantly, the CCAR also provides our rabbis personal support and resources as their communities turn to them for religious and pastoral comfort in time of tragedy.  Our volunteer Rabbis on Call and Rabbinic Hotline, as well as CCAR’s Rabbinic Staff, support rabbis who themselves offer prayer and comfort to their communities.  We also provide resources grounded in Jewish text, theology, and philosophy on subjects ranging from the sanctity of life to the abhorrence of violence.

Our rabbis also benefit from the strength of partnership.  At the end of last week, the CCAR joined forces with the Rabbinical Assembly (the Conservative Rabbis), and the Religious Action Center to provide hundreds of rabbis the opportunity to learn from other leaders in our faith; including one of our rabbis who is serving Newtown as the Director of Spiritual Care at Danbury Hospital; a rabbi and advocate for Faiths United Against Gun Violence; and from the Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

In the CCAR’s latest statement, we expressed our understanding that comprehensive laws cannot stop all gun violence.  But we must continue to act in the words of our tradition: “one who saves one life saves a whole world.”

*Important footnote:  As to the incorrect statements made last week by the pro-gun lobby, Israel is actually a country with strict control over weapons in the civilian population.