Investigator calls on reformist rabbinical group to update code of ethics

(RNS) – The Rabbinical Association of the Reform Movement has released an 84-page report written by an independent law firm detailing the revisions it recommends the association make in its code of ethics to better prevent and repent of sexual abuse in its ranks.

The report by the female-based, female-led law firm Alcalaw is one of three investigations the reform movement has undertaken this year in response to a spate of high-profile revelations of sexual misconduct within its ranks.

It spans 30 years since the 2,200-member Central Conference of American Rabbis first adopted a code of ethics. The CCAR is the ruling rabbinical organization of the Reform movement, the largest Jewish denomination in the United States, with some 850 affiliated congregations.


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With the exception of two rabbis whose sexual misconduct has been widely reported, the review does not name anyone currently under review by the ethics committee or any allegations of rabbinical sexual misconduct prior to 1991.

The two nominated are Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, who served for two years as President of CCAR and later as President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and Rabbi Michael Cook, who has taught for years a compulsory New Testament course at the school’s Cincinnati campus. Cook died in March. Zimmerman, 79, was until the start of the academic year in residence at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas.

Allegations that Zimmerman assaulted a 17-year-old years ago were among the factors leading to the independent investigation. Previously, CCAR had reported Zimmerman’s two-year suspension due to unspecified “personal relationships” that it said violated his code of ethics. He was then reinstated.

The report notes that CCAR has since amended its code of ethics to require mention of when an ethics violation involves a minor.

The report found that many CCAR members are unfamiliar with the organization’s code of ethics and its multiple revisions, and recommended increasing education on the code.

He also suggested that the CCAR expand the sections of the code relating to violations involving minors and make certain notifications when potential criminal behavior involving a minor is reported.

Last month, the reform movement’s seminar, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, released its report, finding widespread sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of sex and gender over the past five decades. The Union for Reform Judaism, which is the congregational arm of the movement, is also expected to release a report.


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