I went to rabbinical school not so much to be a rabbi as to find out what I wanted to do and hopefully find my passion. When I was younger, age eight to be exact, I was clear that the best way to change the world was to be a politician. Based on this ambition, I acquired the skills I thought I would need: accounting, legal, and social work. However, as I dipped my toe in the political and professional worlds, I found that I was too often fulfilling the expectations of others rather then following my initial vision. Hence, rabbinical school was my way of pausing and using our tradition to help me restart my life’s direction.
It was during my rabbinical school experience that I developed a passion for effective and applied ethics. It was not so much the philosophy of ethics, rather, it was how to bring in Jewish ethical consideration to help think through and resolve complex issues. With this focus on Jewish ethics, I’ve been able to incorporate Jewish ethical values when I teach or write about law and professional ethics. I write articles on Jewish ethics, help to draft the codes of ethics for the CCAR and other rabbinic organizations, and even incorporate ethical considerations into my murder mysteries.
I took a leave of absence from my university duties to see if I would be satisfied as a full time rabbi. Frankly, I was not content. I was not fully engaged because I enjoyed bringing Jewish values into my broader work. I guess I was somewhat curious if Jewish ethics really did have important concepts to be shared beyond the Jewish community. And I found that they did.
This perhaps was most apparent to me when I prepared my remarks to be made to the young man who had chosen to drink one night in Providence, Rhode Island and killed my son as he walking back to his dorm. In that crowded courtroom, I shared the various stages and concepts of teshuvah. For so many that day, it was a very different notion of forgiveness than they had experienced. Even the judge and the parents of the defendant were deeply touched. I’m not sure if the young man, now free from jail, will choose to follow the four steps of teshuvah I put forth that day. But if he does, I will be willing to meet with him and conceivably forgive his actions.
In effect, my rabbinate is based on incorporating and teaching Jewish values in my various endeavors: as a professor of business law and teaching professional ethics to lawyers, CPAs, and business professionals. This focus has clearly enriched my work and my life.
Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schaefer is Professor of Business Law and Ethics and Hillel Executive Director at Loyola Marymount University, Rabbi at the Community Shul of Montecito and Santa Barbara, and Cofounder and Board President of the Avi Schaefer Fund