September 15, 2022
You teach us the true purpose of confession:
to turn our hands into instruments of good,
to cause no harm or oppression.
Receive us, as You promised,
in the fullness of our heartfelt t’shuvah.
(from the Yom Kippur Liturgy, Mishkan HaNefesh)
The past year has been one of intense listening, learning, and introspection for the members and staff of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Throughout the process of the CCAR Ethics Investigation undertaken in the past year, we have heard from hundreds of people, including survivors and their families, congregations impacted by rabbinic misconduct, colleagues who volunteered within the ethics system, rabbis who had complaints brought against them, and their family members, as well as members of the larger community. We learned more thoroughly how the misconduct of some of our members and former members has deeply hurt individuals and communities. We have heard about how in some cases the CCAR’s handling of that misconduct compounded the hurt experienced. And we have been reminded how an act of misconduct can have ramifications for years afterward.
Over the last year, guided by outside experts and always rooted in Jewish values, we took a hard look at how we could make our ethics system sharper, clearer, and in the end, better. Our commitment to improvement means that we must also acknowledge instances through the years when we have fallen short of realizing the ideals to which we aspire, and to do the hard work of repair.
With sincerity of heart and intention, the CCAR apologizes for the hurt that our organization and our ethics system have caused. We acknowledge that there have been times when we failed to meet our own high standards and we are deeply sorry. We apologize, and we are committed to working diligently for a better future.
The CCAR ethics system is both religious and aspirational. It is a peer-driven process through which CCAR member rabbis are held accountable to our Ethics Code. We call ourselves to lives that demonstrate the highest values of the rabbinate. We are proud that the vast majority of our members uphold our high ethical standards and serve their communities with honor. And we also acknowledge that the cases where that has not been true have caused long lasting hurt and mistrust.
Since the current ethics system was established in 1991, it has been in a process of continual revision and upgrade, with seventeen cycles of changes to the Ethics Code in twenty-one years as well as changes to procedures and processes. We are grateful to the hundreds of volunteers—both rabbis and laypeople—who have served with dedication on our Ethics Committee and in the related parts of the process, all with the shared goal of upholding our Ethics Code in order to foster safe and sacred communities, and to hold rabbis accountable. In recent years we have seen an increase in cases, with approximately fifteen cases currently brought annually before our Ethics Committee, encompassing allegations of financial misconduct, misconduct between colleagues, bullying, plagiarism, sexual misconduct, and other unethical behaviors.
Our work of institutional t’shuvah, or repentance, has included listening with open and learning hearts to the stories of individuals impacted by our ethics process. For our apology to be wholehearted, we understood that we needed to make a significant investment of time and attention, to hear their pain for ourselves.
As part of our institutional work of repair and t’shuvah, the CCAR T’shuvah Task Force issued a public invitation to all who wished to share their difficult, often painful experiences. The Task Force engaged in forty-eight hours of listening sessions, which were in addition to the 140 individuals who came forward to speak, sometimes anonymously, with the attorneys from Alcalaw who managed the CCAR Ethics Investigation. The Task Force will continue to offer opportunities for those who did not come forward previously. In addition, we also heard and learned from personal accounts shared with CCAR staff following the release of the December 2021 Alcalaw Ethics System Report, and in online reflection sessions held with CCAR members. We learned a great deal from all of these important conversations, and we are truly grateful to all who came forward to share their experiences with Alcalaw, the T’shuvah Task Force, and with us directly.
As part of our learning and reflection process, we carefully studied the Alcalaw Ethics System Report and delved into Jewish sources on t’shuvah while also actively addressing issues internal to our ethics process. We heard the concerns of survivors, families, congregants, congregations, volunteers, rabbis, and others about the broader impacts of the ethics process. Our listening reminded us how vital it is to have a clear and focused ethics process and to ensure better communications as the process unfolds. Since the release of the Alcalaw Ethics Investigation Report, we have already changed significant sections of our Ethics Code and system, and we are endeavoring diligently to pursue further changes.
We also recognize that in addition to the instances recounted above, individual CCAR members and former members have caused harm to people in the communities in which they have served. We urge all CCAR rabbis to reflect on and acknowledge any hurt they have caused, to apologize to those they have hurt, and to do their part to work towards the healing of those impacted by their actions.
Looking beyond the parameters of our ethics system, we appreciate that our t’shuvah would be incomplete if we did not also recognize the pain that too many CCAR members experienced over the years during the career placement process. We acknowledge that women and LGBTQ+ colleagues in particular have reported experiencing both implicit and overt bias in the past. We apologize for this pain and continue to reflect on this difficult history. Although our placement system has evolved in significant ways in recent years, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the past. We commit to sustained repair through our deeds, a process that has been ongoing for some time and will continue.
With humility, we acknowledge that our work of institutional t’shuvah and repair is not over. Our staff and leadership have been deeply impacted by the stories we have heard. We remain committed to the ongoing work of t’shuvah—of listening to and acknowledging the pain of our past, and to creating and implementing a better ethics system for the future. In Jewish tradition, repentance is only complete when we are faced with the same situation again and, having learned from our past, respond differently. The CCAR is committed to this foundational virtue of our faith. With the learning and awareness gained from this time of introspection, we will continue to put new systems, processes, and standards into place in the months and years to come. We pledge to keep learning and growing as an organization, and we remain committed to continually revising our ethics system to ensure it enables the CCAR to realize the highest ideals to which we aspire.
Rabbi Lewis Kamrass, President, CCAR
Rabbi Erica Asch, President Elect, CCAR
Rabbi Ron Segal, Past President, CCAR
Rabbi Hara Person, Chief Executive, CCAR
On behalf of the CCAR Board of Trustees
The following list of actions and improvements to the CCAR ethics system is based on the specific recommendations in the Alcalaw Ethics System Report, as well as further recommendations based on observations made in the report and gleaned from input from survivors and others impacted by rabbinic misconduct.
While not yet complete, this list represents the serious commitment to change since the report was published in December 2021, including the investment of thousands of hours of volunteer and staff work, input from outside consultants, and new hires.
We also want to note that significant changes were made to our ethics system in the several years before the investigation and Ethics Report. One of the most significant is a change in the Ethics Code that resulted in a public-facing page on the CCAR website that now lists the names of rabbis who have been censured, suspended, and expelled.
Jewish tradition teaches us that a necessary element of t’shuvah is not engaging in the behavior in question again. We know that words on a page are not enough; during our period of listening we also took action, as outlined below. Since the release of the Ethics Report, we have worked quickly to implement its recommendations and the recommendations of other outside experts. We know there is still more work to be done, and we will continue this work of making our system ever better.
The T’shuvah Task Force, under the leadership of Rabbi Erica Asch, the CCAR President Elect, and informed by the forty-eight hours of listening sessions and conversations, completed their recommendations for the CCAR Board of Trustees in regard to institutional t’shuvah.
The CCAR membership was invited to participate in an Al Cheit ritual of acknowledgement on September 8, 2022, based on the idea that we cannot do true t’shuvah without first acknowledging the hurt collectively caused by the CCAR.
In addition, CCAR leadership has been engaged in conversations with individual survivors who came forward and requested follow-up opportunities for apologies and t’shuvah.
2. Make changes in Constitution and Bylaws regarding term limits for Ethics Committee members
|Voted on at the CCAR Convention, March, 2022.|
3. Increase transparency by listing members of each ethics-related committee on ethics section of CCAR website: Ethics Process Review Committee, Ethics Committee, Board of Appeals, Ethics Task Force, T’shuvah Task Force
|4. Listening sessions|
During the course of the CCAR Ethics Investigation, the Alcalaw legal team spoke to 140 people who came forward to share experiences, stories, and perspectives.
Additional stories were shared during the reflection sessions, to which CCAR members were invited immediately after the release of the report.
CCAR leadership and staff were also approached following the release of the report by those in the community and within the CCAR who wished to share stories privately.
The T’shuvah Task Force spent forty-eight hours speaking with people directly impacted by the ethics process. These sessions informed the recommendations of the Task Force on specific steps for t’shuvah. The Task Force will continue to offer opportunities for those who did not come forward previously.
Together—and while keeping details and names confidential where requested and appropriate—all of these conversations served as a way to meaningfully learn and reflect on what can be changed and improved in our process, our Code, our policies, and our approach. We are grateful to everyone who came forward.
|5. Make changes to and provide greater clarity about adjudications|
Censure without Publication will no longer be an adjudicatory option. This change was voted into practice by the CCAR membership on June 9, 2022, and is now part of the Code.
Going forward, any rabbi who is censured will have their name published as such on the ethics page of the CCAR’s public-facing website.
|6. Update and revise the ethics system|
An Ethics Task Force, under the leadership of Rabbis Amy Schwartzman and Nicki Greninger, has been formed to study the ethics processes and codes of different professional organizations, as well as religious membership groups. They are also consulting with experts in areas such as restorative justice and mediation. At the culmination of their two-year process, they will bring proposals for changes to the CCAR Board and then to the membership.
|7. Additional education for the Ethics Committee|
In February 2022, the Ethics Committee met for its annual training retreat. As part of the retreat, there was a special training done by outside consultants on trauma-informed best practices. Members of the Ethics Process Review Committee and the Board of Appeals were also included in this training, as were members of the Ethics Task Force and the URJ ethics team.
In addition, we have recently received a grant from the Safety Respect Equity Network to implement two years of additional training with outside experts for members of the Ethics Committee, in collaboration with our colleagues doing ethics work in the Rabbinical Assembly and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.
8. Create a new system for fielding inquiries about the ethics process and for the intake of complaints. This could include a new staff position for an Intake Advisor, who does not serve on the Ethics Committee and is a neutral third party, to be the first point of contact for someone wishing to make a complaint or ask questions.
The CCAR has hired Cara Raich as Ethics Advisor, Inquiries and Complaint Intake. The Ethics Advisor will now be the first contact for those wanting to bring forward a complaint, as well as those looking for more information. This new position provides an impartial and confidential forum where prospective complainants and rabbis considering self-reporting can ask questions about the Code and the Ethics process. When applicable, the Advisor will facilitate the intake of a formal ethics complaint that will be forwarded to the Ethics Committee for adjudication.
Ms. Raich joins David Kasakove, our Director of Rabbinic Ethics, in our expanding professional team responding to ethics concerns. Both bring extensive experience in ethics as lawyers, and both have been involved extensively in the Reform Movement as congregational lay leaders—and, in Mr. Kasakove’s case, as a Reform Jewish Educator.
|9. Changes to the CCAR Ethics Code|
A special subcommittee of the Ethics Process Review Committee, led by Rabbi Tom Alpert, was formed to expedite changes to the Code and present them to the CCAR membership for a vote. These changes were voted into effect by the membership on June 9, 2022. The specifics of these Code changes are itemized below.
The next round of changes is currently in development and will be voted on by the CCAR membership on December 8, 2022.
|10. Add a non-retaliation provision with respect to the ethics process to the Code||Voted on June 9, 2022, and now part of the Code.|
|11. Revise confidentiality clause in the Code||Voted on June 9, 2022, and now part of the Code.|
|12. Create bright lines in the Code regarding minimum levels of discipline for sexual boundary violations||Voted on June 9, 2022, and now part of the Code.|
|13. Clarify that grooming behavior directed toward minors is a violation of the Code||Voted on June 9, 2022, and now part of the Code.|
|14. Codify current practice that complaints are to be in writing and signed by the complainant|
Voted on June 9, 2022, and now part of the Code. In addition, this section now also includes a new provision permitting anonymous complaints.
15. Codify the current practice of the Ethics Committee that all parties involved in the ethics process will keep the proceedings confidential, except in cases of immediate harm or danger, or insofar as they are published by the CCAR in connection with the EC’s adjudicatory decision
|Voted on June 9, 2022, and now part of the Code.|
16. Create a clear and consistent standard for the information gathering process
|Voted on June 9, 2022, and now part of the Code.|
|17. Allow the Ethics Committee to take action even if a complaint is not filed, in the case where a CCAR member is charged with a felony|
Voted on June 9, 2022, and now part of the Code. The EC retains discretion about how to use this power, thus allowing for a situation where it considers the rabbi’s action to be not a criminal act but an act of conscience against an unjust law.
Further, this new provision mandates expulsion if the rabbi has been convicted of a felony, even if an EC complaint has not been filed against them.
18. Create consistency between the Code and the Board of Appeals rules
|Voted on June 9, 2022, and now part of the Code.|
19. Add a provision to the Code requiring notification of reinstatement to the complainant or victim(s)
|Voted on June 9, 2022, and now part of the Code.|
|20. Additional Code changes|
There is another round of changes being worked on at the present time. They will be presented at a voting session on December 8, 2022.
|21. Addressing other aspects of historic bias|
Though not strictly speaking part of the ethics investigation, we also know that too many members have experienced overt bias in the past, particularly women and LGBTQ+ colleagues. As we continue to reflect on this past and make changes for the future, we seek repair through our deeds.
Some of this work in the last few years stems from the Task Force on the Experience of Women in the Rabbinate, including the recent policy change requiring the listing of salary ranges for congregations in search—that research clearly shows helps to achieve pay equity—in the newly developed implicit bias training materials already in use for search committees, and continued training for CCAR staff.
We will also continue to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights—as seen in our Resolutions—and for LGBTQ+ visibility in our communal and liturgical communal life, as seen in recent publications and certificates.
|22. Ongoing learning|
Together with our partners at URJ and HUC-JIR, we are offering a shared Movement-wide study opportunity this Elul. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, the author of On Repentance and Repair: Making Amends in an Unapologetic World, is joined in conversation by Rabbi Jill Maderer on the topic of institutional t’shuvah. This session was recorded and made available for communities to use as part of their Elul preparations, during the High Holy Days, or whenever they so choose. The recording is accompanied by a discussion guide. This study opportunity is not itself an act of t’shuvah. Rather, this is a chance for all of us across the Reform Movement to learn and grow together as each of our organizations continues to move forward with our own work of t’shuvah.