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What’s a Rabbi to Do?

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Ed. Note: This is based on real situations, though all of the identifying facts and the timeframe have been changed to protect the identity of those involved. I am not seeking to raise a legal question in this context, but an ethical one, and I am asking for your opinions and suggestions. --- JB
 
For many rabbis in the U.S. early summer is the season of change in where they are serving congregations. Many contracts with congregations tend to run starting from July, though this is by no means a strict rule. This leads to the situation that one rabbi will be leaving a given post with a congregation, and another will be coming in, often within days of each other.
 
When this is the case, it is natural, it would seem, both as a matter of professional courtesy and collegiality, and to strive to offer the best rabbinic service possible to the congregants, for the rabbis to communicate, and the outgoing rabbi to offer the incoming rabbi a briefing on recent events, the needs of congregants, and things to be aware of in the community. This is certainly the essential core of most orderly transitions and handoffs in medical care, education, business, and other settings.
But in the context of the rabbi who is leaving a position, it is not so clear cut. The rabbi has likely come to have exposure to information that should be considered of a private or confidential nature. This might have to do with health issues, or behaviors, or relationships within and outside of the congregational setting. In light of that, what and how much should and can the rabbi who is leaving convey to the congregational leadership and to the incoming rabbi?
 
Even innocent seeming information may be problematic. Conveying to the new rabbi that the outgoing rabbi has been visiting someone regularly would seem harmless, but the congregant in question may have reasons not to want that fact to be made known: for example, to say that you have been visiting X weekly begs the obvious question of when and where – which might be at issue if it was in a detox facility or a psychiatric ward. That is not the rabbi’s information to share; yet the new rabbi will be unable to provide full support to the congregant if they don’t know it. What should be done?
 
The obvious answer would seem to be to seek permission to convey the information and to receive informed consent. That seems appropriate, but again, there is a wrinkle. Can one give informed consent if they are a minor? Is the consent of one parent adequate when they parents do not agree? In a sort of ‘worst case’ scenario, if a minor is talking to the rabbi about issues with the parent, and that conversation contains negative information or even accusations that have not been raised against the parent, how can the rabbi obtain consent to share the information, without disclosing what is being said to the parent about whom it is asserted? Yes, there are laws about mandated reporters, and required reporting, but when things fall short of that, what and how much is permissible?
 
I know what was done in these circumstances, and I already know the outcome; what I am seeking by writing this blog post is to ask you for your views on what could and should have been done.
 
Please respond with your views.
 
You can craft and email a response, which I will consider for publication in the blog. Alternatively, you can post a comment via Facebook to this post. Either way, I will be very interested to see what others think and would suggest.
 
 
 Please note: All opinions expressed in Postings on the Jewish Values Online site and through Jewish Values Online are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, beliefs, or position of Jewish Values Online, or those associated with it.
 
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