In Apology 9 Months After Ethics Report, CCAR Notes Changes But Says More Work To Be Done – eJewish Philanthropy

When the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinical association of the Reform movement, published a survey of its ethics complaints process last December, it came up with a long checklist of proposed changes.

Last week, almost nine months later, the CCAR published a long apologies, as well as a table detailing its progress in reforming its code of ethics. The table indicates steps taken to address many, but not all, of the reforms recommended in the report.

“With sincerity of heart and intent, CCAR apologizes for the harm our organization and ethics system have caused,” the letter read. “We recognize that there have been times when we failed to live up to our own high standards and we are deeply sorry.”

The apology also acknowledges something the report did not cover: allegations of discrimination against women and LGBTQ rabbis in the organization’s job placement system, which is crucial in helping rabbis secure pulpit positions.

“We recognize that women and LGBTQ+ colleagues in particular have reported experiencing implicit and overt bias in the past,” the letter reads. “We apologize for this pain and continue to reflect on this difficult story. Although our investment system has evolved significantly in recent years, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the past. »

The CCAR investigation, which was conducted by the women-led law firm Alcalaw LLP, was one of a trio of such inquiries launched by the three main bodies of Reform Judaism. Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which includes the movement’s rabbinical seminary, released a investigation in November 2021, while the Union for Reform Judaism, which oversees the movement’s congregations and camps, released its own report the following February.

The CCAR investigation detailed the handling of allegations of sexual misconduct and other abuse against high-level Reform rabbis, and included testimony from rabbis who said they felt discouraged from reporting allegations out of fear. that this may harm their career prospects. Two people described CCAR as an ‘old boys’ club where they would face backlash if they complained.

“[T]there is always a network of old boys and no matter how good the ethics process is, I believe – and women understand – that there are placement ramifications if you file an ethics complaint against a chief rabbi” , one person told investigators. “All these rabbis talk to each other, and then it becomes a difficult and unsettling thing.”

Now, Rabbi Hara Person, director general of CCAR, said eJewishPhilanthropy that it believes that significant progress has been made in improving the ethics system in accordance with the changes recommended by Alcalaw. Recent changes include a public list of all rabbis who have been suspended or expelled, as well as training on trauma-informed best practices for the ethics committee. Additionally, the code now includes the grooming of minors as an offense and sets minimum disciplinary measures for what it calls “violations of sexual boundaries.”

“We can’t go back and reevaluate the past,” Person told eJP. “What we can do is hear the pain of people who have been hurt, and we can create new policies, procedures and systems so that this kind of harm… doesn’t happen again.”

But Person acknowledged that the scope of CCAR’s authority is limited. “Our relationship with our members is very nuanced because we’re not the employers,” Person said. “We are the membership organization, so we can say to our members, ‘Here are the standards we expect you to meet. If you don’t follow them, there is a process that will hold you accountable. ‘”

One area where CCAR wields some power over the jobs of new rabbis is its placement system, now called Rabbinic Career Services. In the past, this division selected who took over to send to which congregations, and was the process by which rabbis often found their first job. This had the effect of disadvantaging the first generations of female rabbis, as well as other minorities.

Because the Alcalaw report was limited to the ethics system, it did not address placement — which Rabbi Mary Zamore, executive director of the Reform movement’s Women’s Rabbinic Network, saw as a flaw.

“In the past, the system didn’t work properly,” Zamore told eJP. “People’s careers have certainly been stunted by the lack of a level playing field.”

But Zamore believes the apology acknowledged this wrongdoing and reforms to the placement process have made the system fairer — including allowing any candidate to submit a resume to any synagogue, requiring synagogues to post pay scales for positions and providing training on implicit biases for synagogue search committees.

“Some of the changes have already happened,” Zamore said, adding that the movement’s career services are “working to create a more equal playing field for people of all identities.”

One recommendation of the report that does not appear directly in the CCAR’s reform charter is to establish better coordination of ethical processes between the movement’s three central institutions. Work on that front has begun, Person said, as the three institutions collaborate on a series of repentance videos ahead of the major holiday. In addition, CCAR has recently hired an Ethics Intake Officer who will forward relevant complaints to the URJ or HUC-JIR.

But she added that at this point, each of the three institutions is focusing on its own ethics process. “We have a lot of conversations about how the work is going to converge and where the different areas of collaboration and cooperation are, but in the short term we’re immersed in individual work,” she said.

Zamore’s organization has been in communication with CCAR as it changed its ethics process, and she is encouraged by what she has seen, although she added that there is more to be done. She particularly appreciates that CCAR has continued to ask victims of sexual misconduct to come forward.

“For me, it’s a process that frankly has no end,” Zamore said. “The victim-centered approach means that the victim-survivors decide the timeline. So if someone isn’t prepared to talk to CCAR…that’s okay. But if that victim-survivor is ready in five years, then the organization and perhaps the abuser need to be ready to have that conversation when that person is ready.

One person told eJP that CCAR receives around two sexual misconduct complaints a year and agrees there is still work to be done. She said CCAR is “absolutely” committed to implementing all of the recommendations of the Alcalaw report. So far the organization, which has an annual budget of around $6 million, has spent nearly $1 million on the report itself and created a three-person department to work on it. the ethics system. The group will vote on changes to its code of ethics at a meeting in December.

“It’s a long and continuous process,” she said. “We always have to improve… We’re going to keep learning and keep making changes, and keep improving, and once in a while we might make mistakes, and we’ll keep learning.”

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