I am on the personnel committee of a small synagogue. We recently heard that our rabbi may have taken financial advantage of someone he met through employment at another synagogue. We feel he has violated his covenant with us by financially obligating our synagogue in a contract that we cannot afford. He refuses to acknowledge his part in this unfortunate situation. Can you point us towards ways that we can confront him that will be within the bounds of Jewish tradition/law? On many levels he is a good man, but this behavior has really upset our committee and the few other congregants who are aware of the situation. We are afraid that this will cause a rift in our congregation if not handled in a just manner.
The importance of honesty in financial matters can not be overstated according to the Torah perspective. The Talmud identifies various questions a person will be asked when they arrive in Olam Ha'Bah -- the World to Come. The first question on our 'Final Exam' involves the way we dealt with money: "Did you act with good faith in your business dealings?" While all areas of Jewish life are important, this emphasis on the importance of integrity suggests that the primary identifying sign of a truly religious, pious Jew is scrupulous honesty in one's financial dealings. Another source speaking to the primacy of being a straight-shooter when it comes to money is the well-known Talmudic dictum stating that a person's true character can be seen by their behavior with Kos, Kees and Ka'as. Kos is the Hebrew word for 'cup'; how do you behave with strong drink? Kees; the pocketbook. Are you honest when it comes to dealing with money? Ka'as; anger. How do you react to stress, and when you're under pressure?
With the above said, I would suggest that the questioner turn for guidance to the rabbinic organization with which their Rabbi is affiliated. His rabbinic organization doubtless has an Ethics Committee, Beit Din (Court of Jewish Law) or recommended process of mediation that both the synagogue and Rabbi can trust to deal with the situation in a manner fair and equitable to all parties.
I am sorry to learn of the challenges facing your congregation. I don’t feel that it is necessarily appropriate for me to advise you in such a sensitive matter. If there are issues of contracts and/or illegal behavior, you are bound not only by Jewish law and ethics, but by the laws of the United States and your local authorities. I would advise you or someone in your leadership to discreetly contact your liaison from the Union for Refrom Judaism (URJ), the congregational arm of your movement.
I would say that whatever the details may be, that you should handle this matter with great discretion and care. The sort of allegations you are making against your rabbi could be damaging to his career, and in the case that you are not correct it will be very difficult to go back from. Additionally, the way you handle the situation can also have negative effects on your congregation. Your instinct is correct that if you don’t handle this in a just manner, you will cause division in your congregation. The best thing to do is to become aware of the policies for mediating these sorts of conflicts from the URJ and to follow those instructions faithfully.
This is a difficult matter for me to offer any advice or response. First off, I don't really know the details of the situation, nor am I fully familiar with all the facts. Anything I say would be uninformed and liable to error. JVO is really not the appropriate forum for such an inquiry.
You should know that Jewish law is far more stringent on proofs than common law: it generally requires that there be two disinterested witnesses who see the action as it is being done for any penalty to be imposed - one is not enough. It also requires that the witnesses know the intent of the person, warn that person before the action is taken, and that the person understand the warning and the consequences, and still proceed in full view of the witnesses. I can't imagine that this standard would be met from the little you tell me; Jewish law and tradition would require you in that case to be silent and take no action.
Looking at what you say in regard to the prior behavior, you are telling me that you have heard something now - AFTER you hired the rabbi, that occurred before you hired him. I would think that it is too late to consider that now: either it should have been discovered and known in the interview process (and if you hired the rabbi knowing it, you can't raise it now), or it is water over the bridge.
More: this is not fact, but what you are 'hearing'. Apparently you can't personally swear to it, it was not established by a court (Jewish or other), it is not public knowledge, and you were not a witness to it, so it is not an established fact, and to act on it in any way or speak of it is inappropriate.
You tell me that you (and perhaps some others on your committee) feel that a contract was entered into by the rabbi without authority; again, without much more information it is impossible to determine what really happened. How did the contract come into existence? What was the circumstance? Could the rabbi have been given signals that this was appropriate and he should proceed? If no, was the rabbi ever specifically told that his role did not provide for him to enter into contracts? Did anyone at any time ever tell him that he would be subject to penalties if he did? Did anyone warn him and then see that he entered into the contract despite the warning and knowledge that he was not permitted to do so? There are too many questions to be able to give you a meaningful answer.
I think that this situation is not so clear cut as you may have thought. It is quite possible that the rabbi showed poor judgement, or even overstepped his bounds, but Jewish law does not impose penalties for that type of behavior.
Apparently you, or someone, has brought this to the rabbi, and he has not agreed that he was in error. It is possible that he is correct, and that what you think you know is not the whole story, just as much as it is possible that your view is correct and he is in the wrong.
If your goal is to mend fences and continue to work with this rabbi, then what is required would seem to be a closer working relationship, with explanation, discussion, and an open give and take leading to agreement on what the rabbi's role and authority are in the congregation: it is not a group of people sitting as judges over the rabbi and imposing penalties for what they don't like. The relationship is, after all, supposed to be a Brit Kadosh - a holy covenant, and not an employment contract for hourly wages and tasks by the worker dictated by the employer.
If the goal is to punish the rabbi, and/or eventually to assure that he leaves, this will become an ugly, divisive, and destructive situation in the congregation, and will resound to the congregation's reputation for many years to come.
If you wish to pursue this in a formal manner, it is likely that you need to do so by going through the CCAR and the mechanisms established by the URJ. If that is unsatisfactory, you can ignore Jewish law and take the matter to the secular courts, but know in advance that because this is a messy process, and one that airs all the dirty laundry, neither party is likely to be happy with the outcome, nor to feel fully satisfied with it, and it is almost certain to create ill will and hard feelings among congregants.
Again, there is no answer possible because there is not enough information to formulate one. I hope that you and the committee members can deal with this in the most positive and mentschlich fashion and bring closure and peace to all.
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