Restoring Our Image as a Light Unto the Nations

How disappointing it is to me that there has to be a declaration made about Jewish ethics in Jewish leadership. This should be self-understood in Judaism. We shouldn’t need to make statements like this. Alas, the time has arrived for such a statement. We have fallen short of our lofty mission to be a light unto the nations. Instead we are in danger of doing the opposite by the constant reports of one Chilul HaShem after another.

A recent editorial by Gary Rosenblatt in the Jewish Week informs us of just such a declaration. Mentioning just a few of the ethical and moral lapses made by prominent rabbis and lay leaders over the last few years, (many of whom were Orthodox) we have no choice but to make a statement that reflects the high moral ethics that the Jewish people are supposed to live by and promote.

I am not going to mention any of those moral or ethical lapses here. I have done so many times declaring them all to be a Chilul HaShem. Besides – the list would be way to long for a typical post. I can’t even count the number of times financial fraud or sexual misconduct of varying degrees of severity so many former Jewish leaders have been found guilty of (…and the accompanying number of times my stomach turned upon finding out about them in the media.)

It is one thing for a lone blogger to cry out in disgust about these people and say that these things were all a Chilul HaShem. But it is another when many Jewish leaders cry out about the need to do something about it. I therefore applaud Holocaust historian, Dr. Rafael Medoff, an Orthodox Jew, for initiating this project and getting ‘more than 350 scholars, authors, rabbis, cantors and Jewish community activists’ to sign onto it.

The opening couple of paragraphs are sobering:

Unethical behavior among Jewish leaders has reached crisis levels in the American Jewish community. It seems hardly a week passes without news of yet another scandal involving rabbis, Jewish organizational professionals, or other individuals in leadership positions. These disturbing developments make a mockery of Jewish values, shatter the trust that we have placed in our community’s leaders, and alienate young people from Judaism.


Whether the offenses involve interpersonal relations, employer-employee relations, or Jewish governance of institutions and organizations, and whether the victims are Jews or non-Jews, the result is the same: individuals in positions of power exploiting their power to disadvantage and, in many cases, traumatize others.

With so many instances of the behavior described in the 2nd paragraph  it truly does make a mockery of Jewish values. Although as percentage of the whole the number is small, the constant flow of such stories make it seem like all of our Jewish leaders – both lay and rabbinic – are a bunch of unethical and immoral people whose primary concerns are servicing themselves.

It’s easy to say, ‘Don’t paint us all with a broad brush’. While that is an accurate statement it is hard not to make that generalization when there are so many instances of it reported. But media are just the messengers. Don’t blame the media. Blame the subjects of their stories.

Judaism ‘if used as directed’ is a highly moral and ethical religion. But when misused it can cause Chilul HaShem and calamity for various combinations of individuals, families, groups, and all of Klal Yisroel.

So as sad as it is that we need a declaration like this, I applaud it. Although I might have a quibble or two about the ten core principles listed, I generally agree with them. I am happy to see a recent past resident of the RCA, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin sign on to it. As well as many heterodox rabbis and lay leaders (who I think form the vast majority of signatories).

There are those within Orthodoxy who would be opposed to signing a document of any kind with heterodox rabbis. They believe that any public interaction at all with them legitimizes them.This is the Charedi view of things. Their Daas Torah strictly forbids it, no matter how beneficial it may be to the Jewish people. But this is not the view of Rav Yoesef Dov Soloveitchik. He allowed Orthodox rabbis to join heterodox rabbis in non religious matters of public concern. I can think of no greater public concern for the Jewish people at this point in time than to eradicate the image of Jewish leaders being either bunch of crooks or a bunch of sexual predators.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.