from “Ethics Code – RRA 2007”

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XI. SEXUAL ETHICS

A. It is unethical for a rabbi to engage in sexual or other harassment. Sexual harassment can involve deliberate or repeated seductive speech, sexual comments, gestures or physical contacts. It may include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This applies to verbal, written and electronic communication.

B. It is unethical to engage in, or attempt to engage in, sexual activity with a minor, with an unwilling adult or with an adult who has a limited capacity to give full and informed consent.

C. Rabbis are expected to honor the sexual and emotional boundaries of all covenanted relationships—both their own and those of other people.

D. Any emotionally intimate and/or romantic relationship between a rabbi and a congregant is problematic and has the potential to become unethical even if no sexual activity is involved. Such a relationship may compromise and consequently might necessitate terminating the rabbi-congregant relationship, with the congregant or the rabbi having to withdraw from the synagogue in order to continue the relationship. Rabbis need to be aware of the risks involved for both parties in such relationships. Rabbis are strongly urged to seek guidance from colleagues or other professionals before beginning such a relationship.

E. When a rabbi has had a significant pastoral, counseling or teaching relationship with a congregant, a considerable amount of time must pass before the relationship can be allowed to become romantic or sexual because of the power imbalances between rabbis and congregants. Until then, such a relationship is unethical even if welcomed by the congregant. The rabbi bears responsibility for not exploiting the pastoral relationship. In addition to the time lapse—which in some cases may require waiting a year or more—joint counseling may be advisable. The rabbi should seek advice from a senior colleague recommended by the Ethics Committee in exploring the propriety of the relationship for both parties. The congregant should be encouraged to consider whether the congregant is freely entering a new stage in the relationship. Some states and professional organizations prohibit sexual relationships for longer periods following the termination of a pastoral or counseling relationship; it is the rabbi’s responsibility to know the applicable rules.

F. A rabbi in a non-congregational and non-pastoral professional role may want to begin a romantic and/or sexual relationship with a volunteer in the same agency or organization. Such relationships are not usually unethical, but they do carry risks in regard to conflicts and the appearance of conflicts regarding professional roles and functions. Many organizations and agencies have personnel codes that regulate such relationships. A rabbi involved in such a relationship should disclose it to appropriate staff members and/or lay leaders if there is the possibility of a conflict of interest or the appearance of one. Rabbis are strongly urged to seek the guidance of professional colleagues regarding issues that may arise as a result of such relationships before entering into one.

G. Any sexual or romantic relationship between colleagues or co-workers is fraught with risks for both parties. These risks include ambiguity about roles, effects on relationships with lay leaders and other staff members, and the future of both parties in the congregation. Ethical and professional risks are greatly magnified if one colleague is the supervisor or perceived superior of another. Rabbis are strongly urged to seek guidance from colleagues or other professionals before beginning a relationship with a colleague or co-worker.

H. Rabbis share holiday and Shabbat celebrations with congregants and socialize with them in both formal and informal settings. Social activities that create situations of potential inappropriate intimacy with coworkers or congregants have dangers against which rabbis must guard. It is best to avoid such situations. When that is not possible, vigilance is needed to avoid damage to the relationship as well as potential impropriety.

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