Maintaining High Ethical Standards for Reform Rabbis

At the CCAR Convention in March 2021, I made an announcement about our Ethics System that has taken on even greater significance in light of the important dialogue that has been happening in recent weeks. At the end of 2020, the CCAR Board voted to undertake and fund a rigorous audit and assessment process as part of our commitment to striving for accountability and transparency. This process is expected to begin in the coming months and will be led by neutral outside experts who will study our system and recommend changes aimed at fortifying it and making it more responsive to our evolving modern world.

The foremost mission of the CCAR is to enrich and strengthen the Jewish community by fostering excellence in the rabbis who lead the Reform Movement. The CCAR Ethics System obligates its members to abide by the CCAR Code of Ethics, and calls for rabbis who engage in improprieties to be subject to review by the Ethics Committee. Rabbis who are expelled, suspended or censured with publication for violation of the Code of Ethics are named on our public-facing website.

The CCAR Ethics System is a crucial part of how we maintain the rigorous standards to which we hold ourselves when we engage with our peers, our congregations, and our communities. It focuses specifically on ecclesiastical standards—how rabbis should act in our roles as clergy and spiritual leaders. We are proud that we have a system by which we hold each other accountable, and we must also recognize that doing so in a meaningful way is a learning process that requires active listening and continuous self-reflection.

To that end, we are beginning the work of updating our current Ethics System. The audit and assessment process will look at our system holistically, including the Ethics Code, the Ethics Committee, the Ethics Process Review Committee, the Board of Appeals, and all the related processes such as investigations and t’shuvah teams.

At the center of our system is our Code of Ethics, a dynamic, living document that has evolved over time, undergoing updates almost every year since it was first created in the 1990s. Many important modifications have been instituted since that time, including one particularly significant change regarding resignations of members during the pendency of an ethics investigation. In recent years, as a result of our commitment to transparency, a member who resigns during the process of information gathering, but prior to the adjudicatory process is considered expelled, and is listed as such on our website.

Over the last few years, CCAR has also implemented these additional changes to our Ethics System:

  • Implementing new trainings for Ethics Committee members related to sexual harassment, sexual assault, the victimization of minors, sexual boundaries, trauma, power differentials, conducting investigations, responding to criminal allegations, group dynamics, ecclesiastic law, self-awareness, interpreting the Code of Ethics, halachic sources and restorative justice
  • Hiring a part-time staff member with extensive professional experience as the Senior Adviser in Ethics, whose time is devoted solely to working with the volunteers and finding ways to improve and streamline our system
  • Streamlining and consistent processes
  • Instituting case-management
  • Instituting in-person yearly training retreats (when possible)
  • Increasing committee size
  • Creating vice-chair and chair-elect positions
  • Assigning peer guides for rabbis going through an ethics process

The dedicated and hardworking volunteers, rabbis, and lay leaders who run our Ethics System, do their work with integrity and a desire to uphold the Ethic Code’s rigorous standards fairly, thoughtfully, and consistently. They have asked for a review process such as this, and I’m very pleased we will be able to start this work.

As we undertake this audit and assessment process with an open mind, we are committed to listening, learning, and evolving in order to make positive change. We will continue to communicate as we move forward. Together, with a clear and steadfast commitment to upholding the highest standards of behavior for Reform rabbis, we can continue to create and nurture safe and sacred communities.

Rabbi Hara Person
Chief Executive, Central Conference of American Rabbis
April 2021