Jewish Ethics, #MeToo, and Crowd-Sourced Responsa | Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Jewish Ethics, #MeToo, and Crowd-Sourced Responsa

News

This article was originally published on eJewishPhilanthropy on September 13, 2018.

In 5778, the hashtags #TimesUp #MeToo #GamAni sparked a broad communal conversation about abuses of power on the part of individuals and institutions, within and beyond the Jewish community. The year brought revelations of misconduct among celebrities and government officials, and in Jewish schools, organizations, and synagogues. Now, powerful people who abuse their power are being held accountable, and this is a development that is welcome and long overdue. That doesn’t mean it is easy.

Seeing trusted leaders fall is confusing. Reliving moments of harm and humiliation is painful. Even when we have clarity on the misdeeds of the past – a challenge in itself – deciding on a response that is just and proportionate is confounding. And what makes all this even more difficult is that the very sources we might seek out for ethical guidance – revered rabbis or the texts of our tradition – are themselves suspect for perpetuating the problems of gender inequity and abuses of power we are seeking to address.

At The Center for Jewish Ethics, we are proponents of deliberate decision-making that brings people into conversation with each other and with the traditional texts that are the repository of accumulated Jewish wisdom. This year, the particular ethical challenges unleashed by allegations and revelations of widespread abuse prompted us to reconsider what ethical guidance looks like. The #MeToo movement has given voices to the voiceless, reminding us that the wisdom we need right now is not the exclusive purview of rabbis and received texts – it lives as well in the accumulated experience and insights of people who for too long have been silenced and overlooked.

We are proud to share a resource we call “Crowd-sourced Responsa,” a growing, evolving archive of sources from across the internet that we see as responding to Jewish ethical questions in the era of #MeToo. Writers have considered a number of questions such as: What does victim-centered justice look like? How do institutions that have protected abusers make amends? What principles and practices can prevent abuses of power in the future? How do we balance the dignity of someone who has been accused with the imperative to protect the vulnerable? We did not always find clear answers to these questions, and in some cases, we found compelling arguments that pulled in opposing directions. We bring a diversity of views together in the hope of expanding and deepening communal conversation about the ethical principles that are at stake in addressing and preventing harassment and abuse.

Responsa are a traditional form of Jewish guidance: historically, when Jews encountered new situations that presented ethical dilemmas, they would turn to rabbis for guidance, sending questions that trusted authorities would answer by letter. The writing of Responsa persists to this day in traditional and liberal streams of Judaism, and we also continue to pursue this kind of careful, scholarly engagement with classical sources, even as we are developing new approaches.

Crowd-sourced Responsa reimagine the nature of authority and expertise, inviting us to discover ethical wisdom in a breadth of contemporary voices, culled from the press and social media. The questions and responses that we gather and curate express ethical wisdom that emerges from communal conversation and from lived experience. We invite you to consult this wisdom, and to add to it.

May 5779 truly be a year of transformation so that heightened attention to harassment and abuse brings real and lasting change. Collectively and individually, may we discern ethical principles and practices to guide us in the pursuit of justice and compassion.

Rabbi Mira Beth Wasserman, PhD., is director of the Center for Jewish Ethics

Director of Center for Jewish Ethics, Assistant Professor of Rabbinic Literature, RRC

More News

College News

Dynamic Hebrew Bible Scholar to Lead Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

Amanda Beckenstein Mbuvi, Ph.D., has been named the next vice president for academic affairs at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) outside Philadelphia. Mbuvi (she/her), a scholar of Hebrew Bible, brings to this role a wealth of academic, administrative and nonprofit leadership experience.

News
College News

Sharon Kleinbaum, RRC '90, rabbi of New York City LGBTQ synagogue, picked to rejoin US religious freedom commission

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, who has led New York City’s Congregation Beth Simchat Torah since 1992, is one of President Joe Biden’s choices to join the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

News
College News

Rabbi Emily Cohen ('18) Rabbi Connecting Jews on the Margins

I’m grateful to be a tech native since that has vastly improved my ability to do my work via Zoom and phone this year, but in some ways it feels like this first year will have been the warm up to my proper entry into the West End community. 

News
College News

The Naval petty officer who found her rabbinic legs at sea — Rabbinical Student Kanaan Goldstein

Goldstein chose to affiliate with the Reconstructionist Judaism movement and enroll in its seminary, because she felt it was “the only school for me because it is aligned with my values as a human being. Its policy on interfaith relations, Jewish blood lines, attitudes towards inclusivity and diversity – it made me feel that this is the school where I belong.”

News
College News

Kol hakavod Rabbi Miriam Geronimus ('21)

Geronimus chose to pursue rabbinic studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinic College because of its combined focus on Jewish history, culture, and spirituality. As a longtime spiritual seeker with an academic orientation, she found the rabbinic program that would work for her. She particularly appreciated the RRC’s emphasis on practical rabbinics.

News
College News

Rabbi returns home to become health care chaplain - Rabbi Rachel Davidson ('21)

For Cleveland native Rabbi Rachel Davidson, the road to chaplaincy is leading right back to Cleveland as a chaplain resident at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center near University Circle. “When I had the calling to the rabbinate, I felt specifically really pulled to becoming a health care chaplain,” Davidson told the Cleveland Jewish News June 21. “To become a chaplain, you need training after seminary, so I’m starting that next level of training.”

News
College News

Incoming rabbi looks forward to meeting congregants in person - Rabbi Mikey Hess Webber ('21)

Rabbi Mikey Hess Webber has served as Columbia Jewish Congregation’s rabbinic intern for nearly a year and is now about to become the congregation’s new rabbi and spiritual leader, but she has yet to meet her new congregation face to face.

News
College News

Rabbi Michael Perice ('20) Shares Experience of Opiate Addiction to Help Others

Rabbi Michael Perice, a 2020 RRC graduate, recently told his congregation the story of his four-year struggle with opioid addiction and his celebration of 10 years of sobriety. His motive: to break down the stigma of addiction and inspire others to get help. 

News
College News

On Juneteenth, Joy and Grief Mingle for Black Jews - Rabbinical Student Koach Frazier

When Koach Baruch Frazier prepares their seder plate, they nestle beets next to okra, blackeyed peas, eggs boiled in hibiscus tea, hot red peppers, baked sweet potato and cornbread, all arranged in a plate set next to a kiddush cup fizzing with red soda, in observance of Juneteenth.

News
College News

New Sacred Music Inspired By COVID - Rabbinical Student, Solomon Hoffman

Solomon Hoffman’s foray into COVID sacred music came out of his experience as a hospital chaplain in New York City during the height of the virus’s outbreak.

News
College News

The Forward Spotlights Rabbi Darby Leigh ('08)

“This has been 1000% my experience,” he continued. “I have continuously been aware on a daily basis of living in a society that is not set up to meet my needs. But this is true for so many people – gay, trans-, bi-. If you’re a person of color here you are not living in a world set up for you. If you are a person with a disability you know this society was not set up for you”

News
College News

Film chronicles the work of Rabbi Kevin Hale ('97)

The film follows the work that Hale, the Northampton rabbi, does to restore two Torahs that were among nearly 1,600 scrolls saved in Prague, capital of what was then Czechoslovakia, after World War II. Workers in a Jewish museum in the city had stored Torahs and other valuables from synagogues that had been shut down following the German occupation.

News
College News

Reconstructionist congregations partner across the miles - Rabbi Nitkin-Kaner ('16) and Rabbi Weissman ('17)

Little did these two rabbinical students imagine that within a decade they would bring together their Reconstructionist congregations — one located in Ann Arbor and one in Attleboro, Massachusetts — for joint worship services and holiday celebrations on a platform called Zoom.

News
College News

The Well & Jewish News’ 36 Under 36: Rabbi Ari Witkin ('19)

The great joy of his job is supporting Metro Detroiters leadership in the work of building and strengthening our community. In addition to his role at Federation, he currently serves as the part-time rabbi of Temple Beth Israel in Bay City.

News
College News

Rabbi Shira Stutman ('07): Hanukkah celebrates a Jewish victory, but this year the rebuilding matters more

It’s about that moment immediately after the Jews won — when, surveying the damage in their country and among their people, they realized how much work there was still to be done, and then chose to get up and start doing it. It is, in other words, the perfect allegory for the United States in 2020.

News