Thursday, May 6, 2010

A New Perspective on Traditional Jewish Ethics

A thoughtful and heartfelt critique and call to action appeared not too long ago in the San Francisco Sentinel, with the headline of JEWS SHOULD CHUCK JEW-SPARRING, followed by the more measured subtitle of "A New Perspective on Traditional Jewish Ethics."  Written by Karen Lee Erlichman, and dated April 24, 2010, the article begins with her personal reflections based on 20 years as a professional working on behalf of Jewish communities.  Early on in the article, she states

In order for our synagogues, our schools, and our community agencies to survive and thrive, Jews need to create a new covenant and organizational culture, grounded in relationship and mutual respect. When we genuinely relate to one another as beings created b’tzelem Elohim, from the Board president to the administrative assistant, our communal organizations will become gardens of creativity, prosperity and peace. We will celebrate each other’s successes and simchas. We will view intermarriage and conversion not with suspicion, but as an opportunity to welcome new members into our Jewish family. Our religious, cultural and relational diversity will be seen as a “value add,” rather than a threat to the fabric of Jewish life.

And while we may not all agree with all of the specific points that she raises in the article, her conclusion, which consists of a new community covenant, is well worth sharing here on our congregational blog:

In the spirit of renewed commitment to these core Jewish values, I offer the following Ten Guidelines for Jewish Communal Life:
1. Derech Eretz
“The way of the land;” thoughtful conduct and common decency toward others.
According to midrash, derech eretz preceeds Torah (Leviticus Rabbah 9:3); perhaps one might say Torah rests on the foundation of derech eretz.
Our individual and institutional conduct as a Jewish community rest on the foundation of derech eretz in visible, tangible ways. We actually live up to the ethics and values we allegedly espouse.
2. Areyvut
Mutual responsibility; accountability
We hold each other accountable to “walk our talk,” and we are as invested in the success of other organizations as we are in our own success. Our practices are transparent and we are fully and equally accountable to constituents, donors, funders and colleagues.
3. Kavod
Honor and respect
We treat all of our colleagues with respect and dignity regardless of role, level of education, or economic privilege. Our respect for them is apparent in every encounter.
4. Mishpat v’rachamim
Justice and compassion
Justice and compassion are two critical cornerstones of our community values, and are evident in all of our interactions and institutions.
5. Hachnasat Orchim
Welcoming guests
We are genuinely warm and welcoming to everyone who enters our institutions; evident in every human interaction on the phone, via email, or in person, from the Board President to the administrative assistant. Hospitality is not just an industry; it’s a spiritual practice.
6. Chesed and Gemilut hasadim Acts of loving kindness
We extend ourselves to one another with kindness regardless of whether we have ever met before. We offer the same kindness we would want to receive.
7. Lashon ha’tov
“Good Tongue;” right speech
How many times have you heard someone say, “I don’t want to engage in lashon hara, but….,” and then launch right into gossiping about someone in the community?! Lashon ha’tov is more than just abstaining from gossip; it is also about the spirit and flavor of how we talk to one another. Lashon ha’tov is about listening and speaking from the heart.
8. Lo levayesh
Do not embarrass
Closely related to kavod, lo levayesh means that we actively engage in behaviors that are expressly intended to comfort, delight, protect and honor someone else. Specifically, we don’t behave or speak in a manner that would embarrass others or ourselves.
9. Parnassah
Sustenance; livelihood
All Jewish communal professionals are compensated sufficiently, with salaries that allow them not only to meet their basic needs, but also to participate fully in the programs, culture, education and services of the Jewish community.
10. V’ahavta l’reyacha kamocha and ahavat ger:
Love your neighbor as you love yourself, and love the stranger (ger)
This mitzvah appears more often than any other in the Torah. It’s about love, folks—expressing love for our neighbors, ourselves, the Other. We are not only polite to one another; we are actually loving, warm and generous of heart.
We are just about to finish the season of counting the omer, a seven week period in the Jewish calendar where we reflect daily on middot, “soul traits” or character traits, to spiritually prepare ourselves for Shavuot. May this testimonial, and these guidelines, serve as a framework for introspection, discussion and renewed commitment to a Jewish community that reflects the spirit of liberation and revelation.
K’eyn yehi ratzon– May it be so.

To which we can add our own hearty, Amen!

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