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The Role of Text Study in Congregational Values-Based Decision Making

In order to develop values-based policies and procedures for our communities, we need to take a few steps back from the more practical concerns and examine our communal principles and Jewish ethical values and teachings. We must first clarify our terms, examine our preexisting attitudes, and understand how our experiences impact the decisions we make in community.

Each community develops its own set of values and principles that will guide its conscious, ethical and creative management. Congregations are also part of a larger network of communities within their own religious stream. Whether “affiliated,” “unaffiliated” or “independent,” no organization or congregation operates in a “values-free zone.” The religious legacies and personal histories that have given birth to our unique communal expression of our faith traditions influence us all, and we are all part of the larger society that carries its own norms and values.

The Jewish Way: Text, Tradition, and Today

Understanding Judaism as the “evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people” (Kaplan, 1934) means recognizing that all aspects of Jewish communal life exist within the realm of the sacred. From making decisions about marketing and publicity to budgeting and setting dues schedules, our choices hold the potential to reflect the individual commitments and the collective covenant of the community, informed by the ethics, values and lived experience, both past and present, of the Jewish people.

The Reconstructionist model of studying Jewish sources is based on the perspective that Judaism is an unfolding religious culture. Though text study has classically been thought of as the study of the Torah and the Talmud, Reconstructionists believe that modern texts, including policies and other documents created by congregations are sacred as well. By studying this blend of traditional and contemporary sources, we can develop a process of values-based decision making.

Whether you are using textual sources from the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, other medieval texts or modern writings, think creatively about ways that you can bring these texts back to your larger community and use them as teaching tools.

Having explored a text or idea from Jewish tradition, look at your own communal descriptions (mission statement, newsletter, brochure, programming and educational offerings) and compare them with your budgets, revenues, and expenditures, and examine them as texts that reveal your communal spiritual journey and stated values. Look at your communal documents and examine them as texts that reveal your communal spiritual journey and stated values.

You may want to consider using Jewish texts in the following ways:

  • As the subject of a “Dvar Torah” or sermon.
  • As a topic for a newsletter article.
  • As a topic for an adult education class.
  • As prayerful intention-setting (kavannah) for a board or committee meeting.
  • As a text for your mission statement, by-laws or communal guidelines.
  • As part of your youth education.
  • As an opening for a “shabbaton” or communal retreat.
  • Exploring in what ways values are suggested by different texts.
  • How are values from a different era relevant today? If they are not, how might they be reconstructed?
  • Exploring an experience in your community that you have had that relates to one of these texts.

This article was part of a resource guide developed by Rabbi Shawn Zevit, Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg, Rabbi Jonathan Malamy, and Sara Mosenkis.

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