Providing you with periodic updates on the ongoing revision of the CCAR ethics system is part of the commitment that we made to you when this process began. As we head into a new phase of this work, it is important to us to share another update as the Ethics Task Force completes its two-year review of the ethics system. We are also sharing some of the critical areas of focus that the Ethics Task Force has proposed that the CCAR create clear plans of action to address. The CCAR Board has now given approval for these proposals to be further explored, developed, and made concrete. A few of those areas include a new organization of the CCAR Ethics Code, changes to processes and structure, a revised approach to investigations, a new approach to a t’shuvah curriculum, and more.
For background: in May 2023, the Ethics Task Force completed its two-year mandate to review the ethics system and create recommendations for revisions, changes, and new ideas. We are very grateful to the Task Force for their hard work on behalf of the Conference.
The Ethics Task Force approached their work, at times with the help of outside consultants, by using a series of steps for transformational change:
- 1. Setting the Stage: As a group, they began their process by examining and identifying the role of the Ethics Task Force and the mandate they had been given.
- 2. Research: Once they set the stage for the work, they dove into research. They spent a great deal of time exploring the current CCAR Ethics Code and system, including studying the Alcalaw report.
- 3. Looking Outward: The goal of this step of their process was to look outside of the CCAR to see what we could learn from others. They learned from other professional groups’ ethics codes, such as those from the American Medical Association and the National Association of Social Workers, and other clergy ethics codes, including those of Jewish and non-Jewish clergy.
- 4. Looking Inward: In addition to “looking outward” at existing models for ethics codes and systems, they also spent time “looking inward”—dedicating themselves to developing a vision for what a modern rabbinic ethics system might include in order to foster safe, sacred, respectful, and inclusive communities. They learned from the current and past Ethics Committee chairs. They led a program at the 2022 CCAR Convention on the theme of confidentiality and transparency, and afterwards studied input from all the participants. In the fall of 2022, they conducted multiple ethics-themed webinars with CCAR members, to hear their input related to ethics themes. They conducted dozens of one-on-one conversations with CCAR members, and they also learned from the T’shuvah Task Force, based on the many hours of conversations with people who have felt harmed from the CCAR ethics system.
- 5. Looking Forward: The next step of their process was to do their best to envision the CCAR ethics system of the future and formulate recommendations for change. They examined areas like defining rabbinic ethics, ethics, process/procedures for the ethics system, alternative dispute resolution, and post-adjudication.
- 6. Moving Forward: This is the part of a transformational change process in which the vision is implemented. We are now beginning the process of moving forward by looking more closely at how to implement recommendations and educating the membership about the work of the Ethics Task Force.
- 7. Reflection/Revision is the last step of transformational change. The group noted that it is important to continually reflect and adjust along the way.
All of this in-depth work led to a set of conceptual proposals, which encompass changes to the Code, as well as changes to processes and structures.
In June 2023, the Ethics Task Force shared their proposals with the CCAR Board for an initial review. The Board has now given approval for these proposals to be further explored and developed. At the same time, a timeline is being developed to prioritize the proposals and determine what specific steps need to be taken to actualize them.
Some of the topics covered by these proposals include:
- New organization of the Code
- New language in certain segments of the Code
- Removal of outdated language in the Code
- A revised approach to investigations
- A new approach to a t’shuvah curriculum
Timing: More detailed versions of these proposals will go back to the CCAR Board for approval before coming to the membership as a whole. Over the next year and a half, you will be invited into the educational sessions and programs related to these potential changes, as well as voting sessions. As before, there will be time ahead of each voting session to review the changes, ask questions, and make comments and suggestions. We are committed to making sure all members have time to understand the proposed changes and comment on them before we officially vote on the revisions.
We want to also note that as this work is happening, some members have raised concerns about additional areas of rabbinic conduct. These concerns are in some ways tied to our ethics system, and in some ways they are separate. We take these concerns seriously, and you will hear more about that in the months to come.
We are grateful to the Task Force for their hard work on behalf of the Conference. The members of the Task Force were:
Nicki Greninger, Co-chair
Amy Schwartzman, Co-chair
Leah Cohen Tenenbaum
(* Served on the Ethics Task Force for part of the two years.)
Tom Alpert, Chair, Ethics Process Review Committee
Erica Asch, CCAR President, ex officio
Andi Berlin, Past Chair, Ethics Committee, ex officio
Ana Bonnheim, Chair, Ethics Committee, ex officio
Lewis Kamrass, CCAR Past President, ex officio
David Kasakove, CCAR Director of Rabbinic Ethics, ex officio
Hara Person, CCAR Chief Executive, ex officio
Cara Raich, CCAR Ethics Advisor, Inquiries and Complaint Intake, ex officio
We are additionally grateful that some members of the Ethics Task Force are willing to remain involved in this important work beyond their initial two-year commitment, as the proposals move ahead toward concretization.
We want to also note that the work of the Task Force could not have been done without significant support from SRE Network, whose investment in this process enabled the Task Force to meet twice in person, and also made it possible for the Task Force to gather the wisdom and guidance of key consultants.
Thank you for your continued support of this process. While we have already made many changes to our ethics code and process, we know the work is not yet finished. We are committed to continuing to engage in this work with a seriousness and integrity, to keep learning along the way, and to stay focused on the goal of having as strong and as fair an ethics system as possible.
Rabbi Erica Asch, President
Rabbi Hara Person, Chief Executive
Central Conference of American Rabbis