Drafting Policies for Our Organizations:
Staying true to our own values

By Rabbi David M. Rosenberg
JWI’s Clergy Task Force to End Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Community

In recent months, a lot of necessary attention has been focused on prominent individuals in numerous fields who have used their power to sexually abuse others. We have also learned about how organizations have been perverted into examples of what The New York Times called a “complicity machine,” enabling abuse, protecting abusers, and punishing victims.

People of good will want to respond in positive ways: To show solidarity, to support victims, and to call perpetrators to account. We must acknowledge that people of good will also have a heightened level of concern about their own organizations: Are our own organizations safe places that protect members and staff from abuse and respond appropriately and effectively if allegations of abuse are made? Are there things that our organizational culture permits that may be perceived as harassment by our members or staff? (For example, an organization may encourage hugging, while some members may have discomfort with such contact.)

As our organizations consider how to respond, two temptations should be avoided. Stakeholders may take a reactive posture, rushing to a resolution, to make problems ‘go away’ as soon as possible. A strategic, proactive response will serve members and staff better – due process matters. Alternatively, an organization may become overwhelmed with worry about exposure to risk. Such worry can become an excuse for inaction.

So, avoiding the temptations either to rush to premature resolution or to avoid engaging difficult work, stakeholders should ask: Does our congregation, school, youth group, camp, or agency have policies in place that protect our members and colleagues, and that help build positive models of community? If our organization has such policies, have they been shared with stakeholders, and have they been reviewed recently to ensure that they are relevant, comprehensive, and effective? If our organization does not have such policies in place, what are we doing to develop them?

Here are some considerations to keep in mind as your organization thinks about developing policies and protocols:

♦ Make sure that organizational stakeholders are strongly committed to developing policies. The more buy-in, the better the policies.
♦ Your organization’s policies should express its unique values, culture, and mission. A discussion of those values – including Jewish sources that undergird them – can help to open up a discussion of policies.
♦ Policies that have been ‘airdropped’ from the outside are less likely to be effective than ones that are developed by your organization. At the same time, know that your organization is not the first to tackle the problem. Consider what partner organizations have done and adapt their work for your needs.
♦ Your organizational leadership may benefit from participating in trainings to learn more about abuse in a number of areas, about improving the safety of your organization, and about drafting policies. A number of North American organizations, within and without the Jewish community, offer such trainings.
♦ Which areas of abuse does your organization intend to address? In addition to sexual abuse, there are many other areas of abuse: domestic, child abuse, clergy abuse, elder abuse, bullying, etc.
♦ When writing policies, clear and simple language is best.
♦ Among the questions that your organization should ask, consider the following:

  • How will your organization protect members, participants, and staff from harassment?
  • How will your organization review allegations of misconduct and abuse?
  • How will your organization protect victims from retaliation?
  • What policies should govern hiring in your organization?
  • What are your organization’s expectations for the conduct of members and leaders?
  • What state-specific mandated reporting rules govern your organization? If your organization has clergy, how does your state define clergy privilege?

♦ Does your organization have Directors & Officers insurance? Does it retain legal counsel?
♦ Policies must be regularly communicated and regularly reassessed. How will your organization publicize its policies? How often will your policies be reviewed?

The task of creating, communicating, and reviewing policies can feel daunting. Remember that good policies are part of an ongoing effort to support behaviors and actions that express the values upon which organizations are founded. Immediate perfection is an elusive goal; it is within reach to make an ongoing commitment to improving our organizations. As Rabbi Tarfon said, “You are not expected to complete the work; nor are you at liberty to neglect it.” The work is urgent not only because of the ongoing revelations that we encounter in news media and social media, but also because our organizations are committed to the dignity of the human person (made in “the image of God”), to an ethic of love and care (“love your neighbor as yourself”), and to making the world a better place (Tikkun Olam), among many other values. Rabbi Tarfon also reminded us that “the day is short,” and Hillel insisted, “if not now, when?”

Rabbi David M. Rosenberg is coordinator of Jewish Educational Services and Orthodox community liaison for Chicago’s Jewish Child & Family Services. Rabbi Rosenberg is a member of JWI’s Clergy Task Force to End Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Community which speaks publicly, develops and disseminates resources and training, and provides guidance to clergy working with families experiencing abuse. This group is comprised of clergy from every Jewish denomination, some of whom are survivors of domestic abuse.