Respect and Responsibility: A Jewish Ethics Study Guide

Respect and Responsibility is a cross-denominational collection of texts designed for use in Jewish organizations to establish readiness for cultivating cultures of safety and respect. This essential preparatory stage prepares organizations for later policy development and training by using Jewish texts to explore contemporary issues related to preventing and responding to harassment, sexual abuse, and other institutional abuses of power.


  • cancelGrounding Values
  • cancelLeadership, Power, and Responsibility
  • cancelResponding to Abuse
  • cancelKavanot, Prayers, and Poetry

Popularity, Charisma, and the Teaching Profession

by Rabbi Yitzchak Blau

In this piece, the author draws on Jewish teachings and educational theory to argue for prioritizing careful and skillful teaching, ethics, and integrity — not charisma — when hiring, guiding, and...

Prayer for Weighty Discussion

by Rabbi Nehunya ben Hakana

This prayer for humility reminds us that it is not our own moral superiority or wisdom that helps us reach difficult conclusions. We do not rejoice in the stumbling of our friends or colleagues nor in...

Prayer Acknowledging our Wrongdoings in Repentance

by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg; Dr. Shira Berkovits; S. Bear Bergman; and Dr. Guila Benchimol

This alternate version of Al Chet (For the Sin), traditionally read during Yom Kippur, allows us to reflect on our possible complicity in abuses of power within our own communities. Reflecting on how ...

The Responsibilities of Bystanders: The Power and Risks of Rebuke

by Matthew Goldstone and Mira Wasserman

In this piece, the authors explore the commandment of tokhecha, or rebuke– including considerations from the original biblical context and its discussion in classical rabbinic text that lay out why ...

The Moral and Personal Costs of Abuse

by Asher Lovy

This piece explores how some principles of classical Jewish law, traditionally applied to physical assault or injury, can illuminate the gravity of child sexual abuse, sexual and gender-based harassme...

The Imperative to “Pursue Justice” and Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse

by Rabbi Rachael Bregman

Deuteronomy 16:20 states “Justice, justice you shall pursue!”—a clarion call to craft a better world. In this piece, the author considers how Jewish readings of this verse can help us confront t...

Sexual Trauma and Jewish Spirituality and Religious Life

by Hadar Schwartz, PHD

Reflecting on the extensive literature on the spiritual and religious impact of sexual trauma on Christian survivors, the author draws conclusions that are applicable to Jewish survivors of such abuse...

Pikuach Nefesh and Sexual Abuse

by Asher Lovy

Asher Lovy is the director of ZA’AKAH. He is a survivor and has been an advocate for survivors of child sexual abuse since 2012.

Vayikra as a Model for Transparent Communal Governance

by Dr. Shira Berkovits and Rabbi Steven Exler

The authors offer this as a resource to stimulate organizational and institutional conversations around power, policies, and transparency.

Solving This Together: Expanding the Principles of Yichud to Prevent Workplace Sexual Harassment and Abuse

by Dr. Sharon Weiss-Greenberg with Rabbi Susan P. Fendrick

The authors propose a rethinking and expansion of the traditional concept in Jewish law of yichud, suggesting ways that setting norms in which two adults meet alone in workplace contexts that are “o...

Safety and the Creation of Sacred Spaces: Ancient Models and Contemporary Takeaways

by Shira Hecht-Koller and Dr. Aaron Koller

In this article, the authors present archeological perspectives on sacred spaces and how they relate to privacy, authority, and abuses of power. They introduce us to various designs of space, and ask ...

Must Power Corrupt? Judah, David, and the Bible’s Model Policies for Safeguarding the Public

by Judy Klitsner

This series of text studies focus on abuses of power in the biblical stories of Judah and David. Commentary and questions for discussion invite readers to reflect on why, even with the best of intenti...

The Concept of Consent in the Talmud

by Rabbi Jeffrey Fox

This piece presents two Talmudic texts that explore the idea of consent in the context of two very different kinds of relationships: the relationship between God and the Jewish People, and the relatio...

Care of Ourselves, Care of Others, Care of Community: Using This Guide in Trauma-Sensitive Ways

by Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg

In this piece, the author outlines from her personal perspective the way secondary or vicarious trauma can impact learning about, working on, and responding to abuse and violence, and provides tools f...

Fostering I-Thou Relationships in Jewish Communities

by Sharon Levin, LCSW

This piece brings together classical Jewish texts, ethical concepts, and insights from the psychoanalytic tradition to characterize the kind of ethical relationship that can serve as a foundation for ...

Protecting Children — Our Fundamental Moral Responsibility

by Rabbi David Ingber

In this essay, the author explores the relationship between holiness and guardianship, framing the work of protecting our children as a fundamental moral responsibility for Jewish communities. A versi...

Ruth, Covenant, and Safe Communities

by Rabbi Mary Zamore

This text study is based on what was originally a d’var torah (a sermonic teaching) on the book of Ruth, traditionally read on the spring holiday of Shavuot. It highlights the concept of brit, coven...

The Rabbinic “David and Batsheva” Story as Paradigm

by Dr. Elana Stein Hain

This guided text study walks readers through an extended Talmudic passage that retells the story of King David and Batsheva, demonstrating how the Talmud uses the story of David to invite reflection a...

Hidden Curriculum: A Tool for Assessing Institutional Messages about Power

by Dr. Shira Epstein

This piece is a guide to help the reader examine how their institution, organization, or community might be conveying messages about power and belonging without intending to do so. It introduces the c...

A Summary of the Laws of T’shuva (Repentance) of Maimonides

by Rabbi Yosef Blau

This essay offers a summary of Maimonides’ teachings on repentance, presenting t’shuva (repentance) as foundational to Judaism and as a function of the human capacity for transformation and improv...

Confronting Institutional Power

by Dr. Marjorie Lehman

This piece invites exploration of the very concept of institutional abuses of power and demonstrates that our classical texts recognize and address the problem of leaders putting the interests of inst...

Poem for Courage

by Rabbi Jill Zimmerman

Recognizing our wrongdoings is important for teshuva, repentance, but it doesn’t complete the process. Maimonides explains: “What is complete repentance? One who once more had in their power to re...


The Study Guide will address a broad range of questions, including:

  • What kind of cultural transformation is needed in the Jewish world to allow the voices of those who have been harmed by institutional abuse to be heard and for the Jewish community to serve as a resource for healing? 
  • How can we identify our institutions’ embedded inclinations, aligning implicit communal messages with core Jewish values?
  • What are appropriate, constructive, and necessary ways to address leaders’ abuse of power and both offer and receive tokhekha (rebuke) in cases of harassment and abuse? 


Respect and Responsibility includes:

  • Three units: Grounding Values; Teachings on Leadership, Power, and Responsibility; Responding to Abuse
  • Contributions from scholars, ethicists, religious commentators, trauma specialists, and educators 
  • Writing in a variety of genres, such as sample sermons, sample prayers, grounding for policy language in Jewish text, and chabura text studies


Interested in bringing Respect & Responsibility to your organization?

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This curriculum was made possible, in part, by funds granted by The Covenant Foundation. The statements made and views expressed, however, are solely the responsibility of the author(s).




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