A values statement is an explicit declaration at the beginning of your Policy stating your organization’s values, which will underpin decision making and be reflected in the policies and practices that follow.
Articulating values helps generate policies based on creating safe, respectful, and equitable spaces rather than avoiding liability or meeting a minimum regulatory standard.
The following section will help you reflect on specific values that your organization might already emphasize, identify other values that resonate for your organization, and incorporate them into your values statement.
Identify Your Organizational Values through Discussion Questions
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- Which values (Jewish, ethical, moral etc…) are foundational to your organization? Which values are part of your organization’s regular discourse?
- In what ways do these values manifest themselves in your organization? What stories, texts, or artifacts illustrate how these values come to life?
- Do any of your organizational values conflict with each other or the programmatic/operational reality in your organization? How so, and how might you address that?
- How might you employ these values to create healthy dialogue around safety, respect, and equity in your organization?
Sample List of Core Jewish Values
- צלם א-לוהים / Tzelem Elokim / That all human beings are created in the image of G-d (Genesis 1:27 and elsewhere)
- לא תעמוד על דם רעך / Lo Ta’amod Al Dam Reiecha / Do not stand by the blood of your fellow (Lev. 19:16)
- תיקון עולם / Tikkun Olam / Repairing the world; social justice (Likutei Moharan 5:1:2 and elsewhere)
- צדק צדק תרדוף / Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof / Justice, justice shall you pursue (Deuteronomy 16:20)
- דרשו משפט אשרו חמוץ / Dirshu Mishpat, Ashru Chamotz / Devote yourselves to justice, Support the victim (Isaiah 1:17)
Now that you have considered which Jewish values resonate most for your organization, you are ready to begin drafting your values statement. Below, we have included examples of values statements for your reference.
Congregation Beth Shalom of Naperville Values Statement
Sacred Spaces Values Statement
Vayikra as a Model for Transparent Communal Governance
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Shira Berkovits, Esq., Ph.D. and Rabbi Steven Exler
This is a sample sermon, originally delivered in 2018. The authors offer this as a resource to stimulate organizational and institutional conversations around power, policies, and transparency
Where does the Torah begin?
The answer, of course, is in Bereishit, in Genesis – literally, in the beginning: with exciting narratives about the creation of the world, self-discovery, wars with foreign kings, and complicated family dynamics; with the stories of our forebears figuring out what it means to be ethical people, and beginning a family that becomes a nation.
But that’s not the only answer to where the Torah begins.
According to a powerful tradition, the Torah–or at least, the study of the Torah–actually begins in Vayikra, in Leviticus, smack in the middle of the chamisha chumshei torah, the Five Books of Moses.
How could the Torah begin in the middle?
Tradition tells us that for centuries young children began – and in fact, this tradition dictates that children were supposed to begin – their Torah education here, at the beginning of Vayikra, with its obscure, practically irrelevant priestly laws. The first text a child should study, the beginning of their exposure to our sacred Torah, is about sacrifices and purity.
Why would children begin learning the Torah here? This seems like such a strange, unrelatable place to begin their education. And it’s not just children – even adults find it difficult to relate to Vayikra. If you find yourself eagerly following the happenings and narratives of Bereishit and Shemot, of Genesis and Exodus, but seem to keep losing your place during Vayikra, you’re not alone.
In his chapter on Leviticus: The Democratization of Holiness, the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes that Vayikra is “perhaps the key text for Judaism…setting out an entire infrastructure for justice and equity in political and economic life.” Why is that? Scholars believe that originally Vayikra was meant as a set of instructions for the kohanim, the priests alone, detailing how they were to perform their duties properly. As such, one could argue it never needed to be in the Torah. Only the kohanim needed it. But Vayikra was ultimately canonized, becoming the central book in the Five Books of Torah, as a part of a process that democratized the Jewish faith.
The inclusion of Vayikra in the chumash became the model of the idea that, in Judaism, texts and rituals are accessible and taught to all, not just the scholars, leaders or clergy. There is no secret lore, reserved for an elite few whom we must trust by virtue of their position. Vayikra lays out transparently for all to see exactly what goes on in the holiest of our communal institutions. We the people know precisely where our donations go, which korban or sacrifice is brought when, and what procedures the kohen must follow. These rules are available for all to see, and the result is that we may:
- know what to expect from our leaders and functionaries,
- recognize deviance from the commandments if and when it emerges, and
- demand accountability.
Consequently, because Vayikra–what children study first–is in this sense the beginning of Torah, it highlights the central value of opening up to all even the Torah’s most esoteric practices and most central institutions.
This is the Torah’s vision of holiness. And it is a model of holiness as applicable today as it was thousands of years ago.
But Vayikra’s inclusion in the Torah doesn’t just lay out for us a model of transparency and accessibility; as we will see, it directly confronts the risks of and opportunities for abuse in positions of power, and in its very details demands accountability. We will unpack here two lessons from the details of the sacrificial service in Vayikra that are critical to developing a culture of transparency and accountability.
The first lesson is about the inherent dangers of power. The fourth chapter of Vayikra discusses the various people who might sin and thus become obligated to bring a korban chatat, a purification offering. In referring to these people, the Torah describes the likelihood of their sinning by using words that imply varying degrees of certainty. Interestingly, in referring to the nasi, the ruler, the Torah uses language of certainty: “אשר”, “when,” not if–as in “אשר נשיא יחטא” “when a ruler sins”–as if a ruler’s sinning is a forgone conclusion.
The Kli Yakar, a 16th-century Polish commentary, notes that a ruler’s sin is often a function of how he holds himself in his position of power:
“אבל הנשיא המתנשא לכל ראש ונוהג נשיאתו ברמה מתוך רום לבבו ודאי יבא לידי חטא”–
“But the ruler who rules over all people, if he conducts his leadership haughtily from a haughty heart, he will definitely come to sin.”
Unlike in some religions or power structures where there might be an almost G-d-like reverence for the leader, an assumption of infallibility, the Torah here teaches us otherwise. אשר נשיא יחטא – “when a ruler sins.” The Torah is teaching us something about power and those who hold it. They–we–will inevitably err.
And we all hold some power over others in our lives, whether as a parent over a child, teacher over student, doctor over patient, cashier over customer. Power provides the one who has it with the ability and opportunity to exercise it over other people, and thus it also demands from us a great sense of responsibility. The Torah teaches us that, regardless of who we are –regardless of what position we hold– in Jewish law, no one is above reproach; we are all at risk of sinning (not even, but especially, when in a position of power), and we are all accountable.
Scientific perspectives on human nature support the Torah’s apparent assessment of leadership and power. In 2013, researchers Pitesa and Thau published an article in the Journal of Applied Psychology detailing three experiments they conducted on the corruption of power and mechanisms of accountability. They found, like many researchers before them, that power can lead to problematic behavior and self-serving decisions, particularly in situations of moral hazard. Interestingly, though, they also found that when people in positions of power were held accountable procedurally, negative consequences were curbed.
In one experiment, they randomly assigned participants to act either as “bosses” or as “team players”. The bosses were given special privileges, badges identifying them as superiors, and were told, “You are in charge”, while the team players were told they all had equal decision-making power. Next, they gave participants the opportunity to invest the payments they had received for participation when they joined the study, pooling their money and investing as much or as little as they wanted, with a 50% chance of doubling their money and a 50% chance of losing it. However, the bosses would not be investing their own money, but instead would earn 20% of any financial gain made by investing the other participants’ money, incentivizing the bosses to invest as much as possible of other’s funds (while being insulated from loss themselves).
The groups were then randomly assigned to one of two conditions: outcome accountability – in which the bosses were told that they would be evaluated by the group based on the outcome of their investments, and procedural accountability – in which the bosses would be evaluated based on how they made their decisions.
While all of the bosses were more willing to take risks with their teammates’ money than the non-bosses, the ones who expected to be judged on the procedures they used to make their decisions risked three times less money than those who expected to be judged on the outcome of their decisions. They were substantially less likely to abuse the trust they were given if they knew that their behavior would be judged, not just their results. The researchers concluded that to inhibit abuses of power, recklessness, and self-serving leadership in our institutions, we must set up standards and procedures and demonstrate accountability to them.
This is the essence of Vayikra.
In fact, from the very first words of Vayikra, we learn a second key lesson: the importance of applying standards to all relationships. The parsha begins: “ויקרא אל משה וידבר ה אליו”–“And God called to Moshe, and God spoke to him”. On this, the Talmud in Tractate Yoma (4b) asks: “?למה הקדים קריאה לדבור ” – “Why did G-d call out to Moshe before beginning to speak to him?” The Gemara answers, “למדה תורה דרך ארץ שלא יאמר אדם דבר לחבירו אלא אם כן קוראהו- the Torah is teaching us derech eretz, proper etiquette, that one should not begin speaking to a friend without calling to that friend first.”
On this, the Torah Temimah, a 20th-century Lithuanian commentary, exclaims: We are learning this lesson of derech eretz from God calling Moshe by name. Moshe!–with whom God had such an intimate relationship. Moshe!–about whom God says:
(בכל ביתי נאמן הוא פה אל פה אדבר בו ומראה ולא בחידות ותמנת ה יביט (במדבר יב:ח
“In my entire house, he is the trusted one. Mouth to mouth do I speak to him, in a clear vision, and not in riddles; at the image of God does he gaze.” Why does God need to practice this etiquette with Moshe?
The Torah is teaching us here that even in the context of such close intimate relationships, we have boundaries. We don’t just barge in; we invite, we call by name. Surely God, we might imagine, had the right to talk to Moshe whenever and however, but instead God models a valuable lesson about the application of boundaries to all relationships – no matter how intimate, no matter how powerful. These boundaries protect relationships–especially relationships of familiarity and intimacy.
It is intimacy that the people of Israel seek when they bring korbanot. Though we translate the word “korbanot” as “sacrifices”, the Hebrew root of the word is “karov”– “close”. We yearn for a closeness to God. By bringing an offering, something of value to ourselves, near to God, we are investing in the relationship, and bringing ourselves closer to God in some way. It is a closeness many of us instinctively seek, and it is because of this yearning for closeness that Vayikra contains such detailed instructions and regulations. Especially when there is a difference in power, the things we are most invested in or passionate about, and the people with whom we seek the greatest intimacy, are also the most vulnerable. The same powerful inclinations for connection can sometimes turn from healthy to harmful. Guidelines and safeguards are there to protect those of us in positions of power as well as others, and to allow us to flourish and grow in healthy ways within these frameworks.
And so we begin our education of children with these laws, teaching them from an early age that all the good in the world, all of the most beautiful relationships, all of our greatest leaders – all of these must operate within a set of structures. No one is above the law. The Torah models a communal religious way of life that centers on transparency and accountability.
Our contemporary Vayikras are sets of guidelines and protocols for the protection of the welfare of every member of the community. We can’t imagine and build healthy communities without having conversations about–and constructing guidelines that create –cultures of transparency, clarity, safety, boundaries, and accountability.
Too often, institutions in the Jewish community have found themselves on the wrong side when issues of abuse of power arise – covering up abuse, protecting those who abuse, and ostracizing those who have been harmed. Too often, when individuals who were harmed turned to religious leaders in our institutions, there was no clear system to address complaints, no direct communication about the actions that would be taken, no cooperation with or reports made to police. Too often, nothing at all was done. Even when the initial abuse is not entirely preventable, continued and prolonged cover-ups and the maltreatment of victims and whistleblowers always is. Jewish communities must follow the Torah’s model of religious transparency laid out in Vayikra; regardless of position, authority, or relationship, all parties must be held accountable to (and protected by) agreed-upon, transparent standards.
Vayikra calls upon every communal institution to meticulously apply best practices of abuse prevention in the context of its organizational culture, to consider this at the core of its mission, and to develop protocols to protect their sanctity. These policies will guide our institutions, but will also help each of us to practice and model safe behavior and foster nurturing, healthy interactions. Though we don’t typically think of policies as fostering relationships, the Vayikra model teaches that it is only when we begin with clear, well-communicated, accessible policies that healthy intimacy and relationships can flourish.
One example shared with me by a colleague is of a rabbi who had a nine-year-old girl in his congregation. She used to give him a prolonged, tight hug each time she saw him. The rabbi felt warmly towards this girl, but also worried about whether this hug was appropriate. Was he modeling safe behavior for her? How did the prolonged hug look to others? He found himself walking in the other direction when he saw her, once even darting into a closet just to avoid her. He realized he needed some guidance. After some discussion, the rabbi’s synagogue put protocols in place that included guidance on interactions with children. Having shared expectations about acceptable and unacceptable behavior–helped the rabbi and others in the community navigate these and other unclear situations, and actually allowed them to become more welcoming.
Beyond articulating communal norms and serving as guides for model individual behavior, policies also function as the perimeter of our institutions, making it immediately obvious when a line has been crossed. Though they cannot prevent all harm, policies allow us to act proactively at an early stage, before we are confronted with a full-blown crisis. They ensure that we can intervene responsibly and sensitively in complex situations, in a manner that is communicated, understood, and expected by the entire organization.
So going back to the question with which we began: Where does the Torah begin?
The Torah of vibrant, healthy, safe 21st-century Jewish communities begins with Parshat Vayikra, and with the wider biblical book of Vayikra that models communal values in its minutia, its etiquette, and its very inclusion in the Torah. This is why Vayikra is arguably the most important book of the Torah, the introduction for centuries of school children to the treasures of Torah education.
May we merit the building of communities that embody the ideals of Vayikra, and may the policy work undertaken by our institutions guide us as we continue our quest at the heart of the korbanot– to be karov, close, to God, to Torah, and to each other.