Revised, August 2002, Under the Leadership of Hazzanim:
Richard Wolberg, Ethics Committee Chair
Sheldon Levin, President
Stephen J. Stein, Executive Vice President
The Cantors Assembly (CA) hereby establishes a formal code of professional conduct for its members. As Jews, we are commanded to live our lives according to the highest standards set by the Torah. As clergy, even more is expected of us since we are religious leaders and role models. A theme to strive for is found in the book of Micah (6:8): "It has been told you, 0 man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you; only to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Micah places justice first because the great sin against which he cries out is the denial of social justice. But justice, the letter of the law alone, is not enough; there must be mercy as well. The Hebrew term chesed denotes something more active than the English word, "mercy." It means "mercy translated into deeds." To walk humbly, according to Rabbinic interpretation, signifies "modesty and decency."
As clergy, this is the model by which we must live. In addition, we should attach holiness to our lives. Not only as individuals, but also as an organization are we expected to act in an ethical and proper manner.
Infractions or improprieties in any of the provisions of this code may subject a member of the CA to be summoned before the Ethics Committee for a hearing. It is our hope that all CA members, as shlihei tsibbur, will live according to the guidelines set herein.
The lives of cantors, both in public and private, should reflect the highest standards of moral and ethical behavior. One must discern between right and wrong, guided by the tenets of Judaism. According to Pirkei Avot, a shem tov, a good name is of paramount importance.
Cantors must be scrupulous about ma'arit ayin, even the appearance of impropriety; chemical, alcohol or gambling abuse, sexual misconduct, and/or any other behavior that might bring shame to the cantor, the cantor's family and/or congregation. In the event that a cantor has a problem, he/she is duty bound to seek professional help.
Cantors must conduct all of their financial affairs with honesty and integrity. Discretionary accounts may only be used in accordance with the guidelines set by the congregation.
A cantor's actions must be beyond reproach. In word and deed, consideration of others should be a top priority. Any misrepresentation regarding credentials, as well as plagiarizing academic works or musical compositions, is unacceptable and forbidden. The CA will review any member convicted of a crime.
All CA members must abide by principles that promote mutual respect between colleagues. In this regard, a member of the CA may not accept an invitation to officiate at a life-cycle event in the congregation of another cantor without explicit approval from the latter. More to the point, a colleague must seek permission from the resident cantor to function in any capacity at a synagogue other than his/her own, including speaking engagements. We also remind our members that they may not inquire about a possible job opening in a colleague's congregation. We must respect one another's position and pulpit.
No cantor should solicit singers from a colleague's choir. In the event that a singer takes the initiative of approaching a cantor, if the singer has been part of a neighboring ensemble, the colleague should be consulted before the singer is engaged.
Relationships With Students
All cantors are strongly urged to abide by the following recommendations. These steps are noted here to protect both cantors and the students they teach.
- Keep the door to your office open during one-on-one teaching sessions.
- It is best to have another adult in the room during private lessons. If that is not possible, another option is to teach with at least two students in the room. If you have no choice but to work with a child individually, do so in an open area where there is a continuous flow of traffic.
- Avoid touching a child, especially if the two of you are alone in a room.
- Do not teach sitting side-by-side with a child. School attorneys advise keeping a foot of distance between teacher and student.
- Avoid giving a student a ride home, but if it is unavoidable, have the child sit in the back seat.
- Do not teach students in your home, or theirs, when no other adult is present.
Relationships With Adults
It is wise to exercise prudence in dealing with adults in your congregation. Just the appearance of impropriety can cause trouble. It is best to err on the side of caution.
In particular, we caution colleagues against becoming involved in adulterous relationships. We remind our members of the prohibitions legislated by Jewish law. For example, a woman who has been married must secure a get before she is free to enter into more than a platonic relationship with another man without the risk of either party being subject to a possible claim of inappropriate behavior.
We also urge colleagues to consider the repercussions of being caught in a compromising relationship, including the permanent damage that may be done to one's family and career. Remember that a synagogue reserves the right to terminate a cantor with cause when he or she has been caught in such a liaison.
Keep in mind that it is best to err on the side of caution while extending care and concern for one's congregants. A balance, though difficult at times to achieve, should always be maintained.
Standards of Observance
- Members of the CA serving Conservative congregations are expected to abide by the religious standards of the Conservative movement, as defined by the mara d'atra of their congregations.
- Members of the CA may not officiate at an interfaith marriage.
- Members of the CA who are married must have a Jewish spouse.
Avoidance of Commercialism
Colleagues may not commercially advertise their cantorial services. In addition to violating the CA's placement procedures, it also denigrates our sacred calling.
- Members shall not seek placement through their own efforts, through an agent or agency, or advocates of a particular congregation. They shall not advertise nor respond directly to advertisements or any other outside recommendations. In short, members may not apply for any position, whether on the placement list or not, without the consent of the Placement Commission.
- All information a member may have about available positions must be communicated to the Placement Commission, which will investigate and act upon the information.
- Members must abide by all the terms of their contracts. A colleague may not apply for placement if, by doing so, he/she is in violation of such an agreement. One may, however, be released from a contract if the congregation grants permission.
- The regularly published placement lists are for the sole use of CA members and must not be distributed to nonmembers.
Complaints Filed Against a Member
A complaint may be filed by anyone (including a rabbi or layperson) against a member. Such complaints must be signed and submitted in writing to the President of the CA. Upon receipt of a complaint, the Ethics Committee of the CA will investigate the matter. A member who violates any of the rules contained herein may be brought before the Ethics Committee for disciplinary action. If the accused is found to be guilty of the charge(s), the Ethics Committee shall recommend an appropriate penalty to the Executive Council, which is authorized to impose such punishment. Such penalties may include, but are not limited to, censure, fine, suspension or termination from membership.
This document contains stated principles of professional conduct. These principles begin to define proper behavior for a Hazzan. This code is by no means exhaustive. Should you have any questions or concerns about this document, we encourage you to contact the chair of our Ethics Committee, President, or Executive Vice President.
2017 Ethics Committee: Hazzanim William Lieberman (Chair); Sheri Allen, Matt Axelrod, Sanford Cohn, Elisheva Dienstfrey, Kimberly Komrad, Erica Lippitz, Alisa Pomerantz-Boro (President), Murray Simon, Stephen J. Stein (Executive Vice President), David Tilman