Thursday, May 14, 2009

New RCA Resolutions

From the RCA website (link):

  1. Institutional Transparency

    Click here to read moreThe financial and ethical scandals that have come to light of late have engendered a great deal of cynicism in the members of the Orthodox Jewish community regarding the religious and communal institutions that serve them.

    Such cynicism erodes the respect due community leaders in light of their prodigious efforts on behalf of their constituents, saps motivation and financial contributions and thereby handicaps new initiatives, and causes young people to become jaded about the possibility of working on behalf of the community.

    In order to regain the confidence of the Jewish community, let it be resolved that all Jewish communal institutions strive to attain levels of transparency regarding financial affairs, regarding the mechanism of leadership succession, and regarding the planning and execution of general business.

    Vehicles for attaining transparency include annual open meetings, featuring complete reports of their activities and financial condition, as well as periodic newsletters detailing current news and goals.

    Through this transparency, our Jewish communal institutions will regain the crucial support and participation of community members, ensuring organizational viability and on-going success.

  2. Modesty, Responsibility and Tzedakah: A Moral Call for Reducing Spending in the Jewish Community

    Click here to read moreEven in ripest times, the Jew is commanded by Torah and tradition to "Walk modestly with G-d," eschewing ostentation. The Jewish citizen is further required to measure the arc of his financial steps with responsible care. Tzedakah, too, is a fundamental Jewish imperative, conveyed in both lore and law; our righteous ancestors defined their well-being not by the number of possessions they acquired, but by the number of mouths they fed.

    Today, in the midst of an international economic crisis, our tradition demands that we re-commit ourselves to these values of modesty, responsibility and tzedakah. Modesty, because the Talmud teaches that we may not enjoy luxury when others suffer, let alone when we, ourselves, are suffering. Responsibility, because the bite of personal debt inflicts pain upon the entire community. Tzedakah, because since the days of Devarim we have been instructed to employ our wealth as a weapon against the poverty of others.

    Were the financial crisis to end tomorrow, our community would, nonetheless, be required to live modest, responsible and generous lives; we can do no different when surrounded by unemployment and economic despair.

    Therefore, the Rabbinical Council of America resolves that we must turn to Modesty and Tzedakah, as a community, in part through the following practical measures:

    We call upon our communal institutions to join forces, pooling purchasing power as well as resources, and avoiding duplicate efforts;

    We call upon our yeshivot and summer camps to eliminate expenses wherever possible, to enable more families to afford tuition;

    We call upon our simcha vendors, including caterers, florists and photographers, to offer low-cost, modest options for weddings and other celebrations. At the other end of olam hazeh, we call upon funeral homes and cemeteries to likewise offer low-cost, modest options for their services;

    We call upon our rabbonim and poskim to continue to be sensitive to the current financial she'at hadechak in legislating for our communities, as well as to look out for the welfare of the neediest among us;

    We call upon every Jew to opt for modest choices and lower costs, to guard against deficit spending, and to direct some of the consequent savings toward assistance for others.

    And we ask those who can afford more to purchase less, in pursuit of modesty and responsibility and in recognition of the social pressure that their luxury brings to bear upon others.

    May Zion soon be redeemed with justice, and may her children return to her with righteousness.

  3. Unity in the Age of New Media: RCA and its Members to Use New Media to Unite, not Divide

    Click here to read moreThe destiny of our Jewish nation has long been determined by the unity of the spiritual heirs of Avraham and Sarah. Unity has inspired brother to save brother and enabled a people to receive and transmit the Torah across generations.

    The Rabbinical Council of America's fraternity of rabbis stands as a unifying force, accepting duly ordained rabbis from a broad ideological field and requiring only a commitment to traditional Torah belief and observance. The RCA seeks to promote unity amongst the rabbinate, and from there amongst the laity as well.

    The modern quest for unity is aided by the unprecedented ease and speed of communication offered by new media, connecting individuals and communities across continents and oceans. More than six hundred RCA-member rabbis communicate regularly via internet forum. Torah is discussed by rabbis who have never met in person, ideas for outreach and education are shared and promoted in a matter of hours, and articles are drafted for publication with broad input and approval.

    This same ease and speed of communication threatens our unity, though, enabling publication of thoughts which would have been better kept private and encouraging caustic dissemination before candid discussion. The resulting public disputes are unhealthy for the RCA and, on the broader band, this public strife is unhealthy for the Jewish people as a whole.

    Certainly, strongly held ideology is bound to lead to disagreement in areas of philosophy as well as halachah, and such disputes often demand airing and debate. However, only in the rarest and most dire situations is it appropriate for individual members of the RCA, or the RCA itself, to issue public statements criticizing individuals or organizations.

    Be it resolved that the RCA, as well as its individual members, will employ any and all reasonable means of notification, negotiation and diplomacy before resorting to publication of negative statements and articles.

    Be it further resolved that the RCA, as well as its individual members, will not issue negative statements and articles except in cases of the most egregious provocation and the most pressing need.

    Be it further resolved that in such circumstances, the RCA, as well as its individual members, will employ the power of media, new and old, to contribute to this superior value of unity, and to avoid any sort of public statement which might be taken to detract from the reputation of other organizations or individuals, without warrant.

    "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all of her paths are peace."

  4. Encouraging Synagogues to Network for Jobs

    Click here to read moreOur historic Jewish mission, which charges every individual to look beyond his own seemingly secure four walls and to aid others, arises from a wide range of core Torah values and such express mitzvah concepts as "Love your neighbor as yourself" and "You shall not stand by your brother's blood."

    Today's economic climate poses challenges to all Americans in our national work force, with job security increasingly volatile and unemployment rates reaching heights not seen for many years. In this employment environment, creative approaches for social and business networking are increasingly important in helping unemployed individuals find a suitable parnasa.

    We note with appreciation and commend the leadership roles in this area that have been taken by several Torah-based national and local synagogue bodies. Nevertheless, we wish to emphasize that the local synagogue is particularly positioned as a resource through which job seekers may network, dignity intact, with others who are uniquely positioned to identify appropriate opportunities.

    The synagogue, as a public community institution, already serves as a natural networking agency for many variegated purposes, including religious and spiritual growth, educational and cultural enrichment, and social programming. In these times of financial challenge, the synagogue and its membership can serve in a critical new role, enabling networking between people seeking fitting, gainful employment and people who know where fitting, gainful employment can be found.

    Therefore, be it resolved that the synagogue community explore with a new perspective the less-tapped employment resources available within our memberships.

    We call upon our synagogues to join forces, networking actively within their memberships as well as those of sister synagogues to identify job seekers, evaluate and circulate their qualifications, and help in every way possible, while upholding and honoring the dignity of job seekers, throughout the hiring process.

    We further call upon our synagogues to encourage their members to hire the job seekers among them, as well as to actively search for job opportunities within their spheres of activity.

  5. Supporting Israel's Defense Forces

    Click here to read moreThe contemporary battles that the Jewish people must confront in the media and the public arena may be, in their own way, as dangerous and destructive to the Jewish future as the engagement of weaponry in the actual theater of war. The State of Israel, in particular, is regularly attacked in these venues, in which preposterous accusations, no matter their level of veracity, promote hatred for Judaism and the Jewish people throughout the world.

    In its ongoing war on terror, the Israel Defense Forces recently entered Gaza through Operation Cast Lead. The IDF strove to protect the citizens of the State of Israel from the deadly rocket attacks that have been recklessly launched, daily, into its population centers and cities, with the expressed purpose of taking the lives of its innocent civilians.

    The high moral standards of the IDF have been put to the test in war after war, in terms of both policy and execution. Through it all, the facts have shown - in spite of notoriously false reports, doctored photographs, and fictional casualty numbers - that the Israeli army has regularly sought, and continues to seek,ways to reduce harm to civilians. Errors and violations are thoroughly investigated, corrected, and even publicized, while perpetrators are brought to justice.

    Tragically, there is no war that does not place innocents in harm's way, but we condemn the attempts by the Palestinian terrorist entity to intentionally place their own people in such situations, and to use them as human shields, in order to maximize a media campaign discrediting the State of Israel.

    Furthermore, we find it ironic and outrageous that a nation seeking to protect her citizens is now accused of utilizing undue force and of failing to exhibit regard for non-combatants. All of this occurs while the instigators, whose murderous motives are clear and without debate, play the role of victims while smuggling in more weapons and making ready their next murderous attack.

    We therefore call upon all members of the Rabbinical Council of America to reaffirm our praise for the high moral character of the IDF and its attempt to safeguard the sanctity of human life, to the degree possible, in war.

    We further call upon our members, when necessary and when possible, to defend the IDF, in speech or through the written word, especially when such malicious accusations and charges against the State of Israel have the ability to promote hatred for Judaism and the Jewish people throughout the world.

    May God give His nation strength and may He bless His nation with peace.

  6. Importance of Day School Education: Opposes Charter Schools, Urges Community to Increase Funds to Day Schools, and Urges Day Schools to Reduce Costs

    Click here to read moreThe current global financial downturn has adversely affected Jewish communities far and wide. One potentially devastating result, for younger families, is the challenge of affording Jewish day school tuition.

    A double curriculum, particularly on the high school level, requires twice the faculty needed for general studies, causing a great deal of additional expense. Even before the current economic crisis, charter schools teaching Hebrew language and Jewish history, as well as public schools that would permit Jewish studies to be taught to select students during the school day, were proposed as cost-cutting options.

    Considerable research has demonstrated that the years spent in a Jewish day school environment play a powerful and essential role in Jewish identity formation and ongoing commitment to observance and Jewish community. Even proposed "Hebrew language" charter schools fail to provide an environment conducive to the development of deep-seated Jewish identity. Further, these schools are mandated to teach limited aspects of Jewish culture, self-consciously avoiding Torah and mitzvot.

    Were a shortage of funds to force us to reprise the situation of past decades, in which relatively few young members of even the Orthodox community were able to receive a day school education, this would constitute a substantive demolishment of one of the crucial building blocks of our families, neighborhoods, communities, and cities. This would turn back the clock on the many years invested in achieving the current level of availability of day school education, and the concomitant positive results.

    Be it resolved that we urgently encourage our Jewish communities to creatively make the maximum possible assistance available to students in need, so that they will receive the total Jewish education they desperately need and deserve.

    Be it further resolved that Jewish day schools must engage in serious and effective cost-cutting, to insure that their operations are as lean and cost-efficient as possible.

    We further call upon rabbis and their constituents to re-evaluate the needs of their community schools and the distribution of their tzedaka funds, so as to direct them inwardly, where such is required.

    We further urge rabbanim to emphasize to their congregants that the obligation to support Jewish day schools is not limited to the parent body, but applies to the entire community. Indeed, only through such an understanding will our educational institutions survive the current economic downturn as well as thrive, and offer our children the education and experience that is so necessary for their Jewish success.

  7. Business Ethics in Synagogue and Jewish Institutional Life: Communal and Synagogue Honors must be Given Only to Those with Reputations for Ethical Behavior

    Click here to read moreOur Torah commands sanctity in the marketplace and workplace as in the home and synagogue. From Biblical times to the present, Jews have been summoned to a life of ethical behavior and social responsibility, of respect for both ritual practice and the rule of civil law. This tradition acknowledges the legitimacy of property rights as well as business profit, but simultaneously challenges us to fulfill principles of just conduct, even when faced with serious financial challenges.

    It is naturally the responsibility of synagogues as central Jewish institutions of assembly, and of Jewish day schools as centers for teaching Jewish knowledge and imbuing Jewish values, to implement and practice exemplary public policies that demonstrate and promote the centrality of these values.

    Recently the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) has begun issuing a series of guidelines delineating ethical business practices for employer and employee, market and consumer, in an effort to educate and inspire sanctity in earning a livelihood, as in the entirety of our religious lives.

    This effort to educate and inspire recognizes that a person's past impropriety does not irrevocably define his path. Consequently, we fervently hope that individuals who have become associated with questionable activities will find ways to rehabilitate themselves and engage in the sorts of meaningful acts of teshuvah that will demonstrate to the community's satisfaction that they have put these activities behind them. However, until such acts of honest contrition take place, other courses of action, symbolic as well as substantive, are required.

    Therefore, be it resolved that we must vigorously educate and demonstrate to our laity and our day school students and parents, especially in our trying economic times, that the Torah mandate for ethical behavior and social responsibility is paramount.

    We call upon synagogues to review longstanding policies and publicly reaffirm among their membership that ritual kibbudim, leadership positions and public honors and recognitions should be conferred only upon those whose reputations for honesty and ethical conduct comport with these values.

    Ritual kibbudim include leading services, opening and closing the Aron Kodesh, ascending to the Torah, and raising the Torah and rolling it closed.

    Leadership positions include serving as gabbai, synagogue officer or board member, or otherwise occupying a position of honor in the synagogue administration.

    Public honors and recognition include receiving special mention at synagogue banquets and assemblies, and having names assigned to synagogue facilities or inscribed in places of honor.

    It is understood that moral turpitude may come to light only long after it has been committed. In some cases, allegations of corruption may defy judicial clarification for months and years. In such circumstances, the synagogue should take all of these steps immediately upon its verification of past corruption.

    We further call upon synagogues to place an enhanced premium on according meaningful honor - honor in synagogue ritual, honor in selection to serve in synagogue governance, and honor in other aspects of public synagogue recognition - to individuals whose financial standing may be modest but who, by their own exemplary conduct and noble deeds, bring honor to their synagogues, their communities, and to the Torah and G-d of Israel.

    We call upon other Jewish institutions in our land to adopt and execute policies similar to those we urge above for synagogues and Jewish day schools.

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