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Governing Documents

These are the documents that influence how we govern our communal life. The truth is that mutually accepted and lived values, not documents, are what govern our lives. Documents reflect the end result of lengthy and dynamic processes of communal decision-making and values clarification. Documents codify expected norms of behavior, communal priorities, procedures and practices. Throughout Jewish religious civilization, the Torah itself and documents like the ketubah have served as guides for regulating interpersonal and communal processes. These documents, like those that will be addressed in this section, are sacred texts that serve as written representations of a covenantal relationship.

Within the Jewish tradition, it is the concept of covenant or brit that binds us together. We are in a covenantal relationship both with the Divine and with each other. Our documents reflect our commitment to our relationships and the ideal values that we strive to project through being in relationship with one another. Included here are various governing documents from contemporary synagogue life. Most of these documents come from Reconstructionist communities across North America. We will explore the values that are both implicit and explicit within these documents. We will also look at how the concept of covenant is reflected in these documents.

Mission/Vision Statements:
Mission and vision statements are the articulation of the collectively shared values and goals of a given community. A mission or vision statement is an ideal and unique image of the future. The more the goals elicit emotions, the more they are a mission/vision. As you study these documents you might ask the following questions:

  • What is the role of the mission statement in communal governance?
  • How often are mission statements revised? Where are mission statements "published" (synagogue brochure, in preamble to bylaws, policy manual, etc.)?
  • How can a mission statement be used as a tool for values clarification and decision-making?
  • How can the language of these documents be continually re-enforced in the life of the community?

Congregational by-laws are the laws by which a community is governed. But laws do not exist separate from values and ethics. Laws are institutionalized values. Therefore it is vital that the bylaws of a congregation reflect the sacred intent of the community and all of its articulated values, as well as the necessary legal requirements. As you study the following documents you might ask the following questions:

  • How is the issue of membership privileges addressed in these documents?
  • How do they address issues like the termination of membership privileges or the termination of services of a staff member or the rabbi?
  • What are the basic components of congregational bylaws as exhibited in these sample documents?
  • How are Jewish value concepts and terminology used in these documents?
  • What provisions are Reconstructionist communities including in their bylaws that reflect Reconstructionist and Jewish values?

Please keep in mind that someone in every congregation, either the administrator or a member of the board (as well as a lawyer), should make it his or her business to read the basic statute governing the functions of the synagogue, as they are affected by civil law in your respective area.

A very useful congregational document is the minutes of board and committee meetings. Minutes are written to determine the day-to-day operations of the congregation, its programs, activities, religious events, etc., and to create for the community a sense of organizational history. Minutes are also written for the purpose of reminding all present at a meeting what transpired, to inform those unable to attend a meeting as to what took place, and to inform a historian of the process of decision-making.

Note that the ideal minute book is one with pre-numbered pages, none of which can be replaced or substituted.

Guidelines and Policies:
Growing out of the mission and bylaws come the articulated policies and guidelines of the board, in concert with the rabbi and the membership in general. Issues may generate up from the membership to the leadership, or they may be identified by the leadership and the staff. Guidelines and policies of any community, adopted by the board and then by the congregation as a whole, should be the product of a process that includes communal study of traditional sources and subsequent in-depth special study by topical subgroups and committees.

Subgroups are empowered to formulate draft statements of principles and more detailed guidelines. Members are then invited before and after this process to provide input into these guidelines throughout the process that may take a year or a number of years, as in our movement-wide commissions. (See the Reconstructionist Movement's various papers on Homosexuality, The Role of the Non-Jew, Disabilities, The Rabbi-Congregational Relationship, Exploring Judaism, etc.)

Type: Glossary

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