Revised, March 2018, by Hazzanim:
Matt Axelrod, Elisheva Dienstfrey, William Lieberman, and Murray Simon,
based on an original document conceived in 2002 by Hazzan Richard Wolberg.

Introduction

The Cantors Assembly (CA) hereby establishes a formal code of professional conduct for its members. As clergy, we are held to the highest standards since we are religious leaders and role models.  A theme to strive for is found in the book of Micah (6:8):  "He has told you, O 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. We are expected to act in an ethical and proper manner, as individuals and as representatives of the Cantors Assembly. This Code of Professional Conduct seeks to clarify the policies of the Cantors Assembly as well as make a statement about the expected responsibilities of its members in the areas of personal behavior and relationships with colleagues and congregants.

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 highest standards set.

Personal Standards

Cantors must be scrupulous about mar’it ayin, even the appearance of impropriety or behavior that might shed a negative light upon the Cantor, the Cantor’s family and/or congregation.

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.

Professional Relationships

All CA members must abide by principles that promote mutual respect between colleagues. Specifically, 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 and life-cycle events.  We also remind our members that they may not inquire about a possible job opening in a colleague’s congregation.  It is expected that all Cantors treat other Cantors with respect and kindness.

Relationships With Congregants

As Cantors, the appropriate use of our position as clergy enhances our work and can contribute to the growth of faith and observance in our communities. However, we must be ever mindful of boundary violations, especially in the area of sexual misconduct. Therefore, we offer the following guidelines for professional conduct:

  1. Cantors work closely with members of the congregation. Because these relationships may generate feelings of closeness and intimacy, we caution our colleagues to be alert to the temptations that such relationships can evoke. Sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment, sexual advances—verbal, physical, direct, or implied—is a violation of the clergy/congregant relationship.
  2. Cantors need to be careful about how they speak to other individuals. They must be careful to avoid words or gestures that could be construed as sexually suggestive or provocative.
  3. If sexual boundaries are violated by the Cantor, it is understood that the relationship is not considered to be consensual.
  4. A Cantor who is unmarried and is considering entering a dating relationship with a congregant or staff member should be extremely sensitive to the delicate nature and possible consequences of such a relationship.

Relationships With Students 

Cantors are uniquely positioned to have an enormous influence on the religious education of our Jewish children. Among the synagogue staff, the Cantor often spends a significant amount of time with the congregational youth. This privilege presents some wonderful opportunities, but also notable challenges and possible pitfalls.

Because Cantors will likely find themselves working with children and B’nei Mitzvah students, they should be aware of the same common-sense precautions that all educators and other professionals follow. Specifically, Cantors should never be alone with a student in the synagogue or the student’s home, and should similarly make every effort to keep their office door open when teaching. The Cantor should avoid any unnecessary touching or bodily contact, and in general should be circumspect and above reproach in his or her behavior and use of language when around a student.

Use of Social Media

There is no doubt that social media affords a unique and positive opportunity for connection and publicity for clergy and congregant alike. But like any other form of interaction, great care must be taken by the Cantor to utilize social media with the utmost of discretion and good judgment. Specifically, the Cantor needs to be mindful of the fact that any posting, photo, or comment immediately becomes public and reflects directly upon him or her. If a Cantor chooses to “friend” or otherwise connect with a congregant, all interactions should maintain the highest standards of ethical behavior and also adhere to those policies spelled out above in Relationships With Congregants. While not expressly forbidding it, we would strongly caution a Cantor not to form social media connections with students or minors. Many congregations and organizations have existing policies on the proper use of social media, and the Cantor is bound to the rules and regulations of the congregation that they serve.

Standards of Observance

  1. 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.
  1. Members of the CA may not officiate at an interfaith marriage.
  1. Members of the CA who are married must have a Jewish spouse.
  1. In general, all members of the CA, regardless of the specific congregation that they serve, should be mindful that they are representatives of an organization which is an arm of the Conservative Movement.

Placement Procedures

  1. Members may not seek placement in congregations through their own efforts or by communicating with representatives of a particular congregation. They may not advertise nor respond directly to advertisements for such positions or any other outside recommendations.  In short, members may not apply for any congregational position, whether on the placement list or not, without the consent of the Placement Commission.
  1. All information a member may have about available positions must be communicated to the Placement Commission, which will investigate and act upon the information.
  1. Members must abide by all the terms of their contract. A colleague may not apply for placement if, by doing so, he/she is violating the terms of his/her contract.  One may, however, be released from an agreement if permission is granted by the congregation.
  1. The regularly published placement lists are for the sole use of CA members and must not be distributed to non-members.

Complaints Filed Against a Member

A complaint may be filed by anyone (including a rabbi or layperson) regarding the conduct of 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 will 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.

Conclusion

This document has stated principles of professional conduct.  These principles begin to define proper conduct for a member of the Cantors Assembly, but are by no means exhaustive.  Any questions or concerns about this document should be addressed to the chair of our Ethics Committee, President, or Executive Vice President.

Revised March 2018 by Hazzanim, Matt Axelrod, Elisheva Dienstfrey, William Lieberman, and Murray Simon, based on an original document conceived in 2002 by Hazzan Richard Wolberg.

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