From Sanc­tu­ary to Board­room: A Jew­ish Approach to Leadership

Hal M. Lewis
  • Review
By – October 18, 2011
Hal Lewis, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of Jew­ish Stud­ies and dean of pub­lic pro­gram­ming at the Sper­tus Insti­tute of Jew­ish Stud­ies in Chica­go, deft­ly presents an intro­duc­tion to a mod­el of lead­er­ship based on Juda­ic sources and tra­di­tions. Weav­ing rather seam­less­ly bib­li­cal, Tal­mu­dic, and rab­binic sources through the ages with con­tem­po­rary sec­u­lar approach­es to lead­er­ship, Lewis iden­ti­fies the inher­ent ten­sion with­in a Juda­ic approach that under­stands the need for lead­ers and lead­er­ship mod­els bal­anced against an over­ar­ch­ing par­a­digm in which there is but one true Leader,” G‑d. He makes the case for what he calls a keteric sys­tem (com­ing from the Hebrew keter, crown”), in which the desir­able approach rec­og­nizes the lim­i­ta­tions and pos­si­ble abus­es that can result from fail­ing to sep­a­rate out polit­i­cal (or admin­is­tra­tive), reli­gious, and edu­ca­tion­al aspects of lead­er­ship func­tions in diverse Jew­ish set­tings (com­mu­ni­ties, syn­a­gogues, com­mu­nal orga­ni­za­tions, etc.). Lewis high­lights the six impor­tant char­ac­ter traits that Judaism iden­ti­fies as being cen­tral to good lead­er­ship, which must be oper­a­tional­ized as behav­iors, if they are to have any real mean­ing and impact: piety; tenac­i­ty; com­pas­sion; ser­vice to fol­low­ers; humil­i­ty; and, con­sis­ten­cy and fair­ness.

This is a high­ly read­able book that can serve as a begin­ning to a process for a Jew­ish com­mu­nal group or orga­ni­za­tion. Lewis is already a fair­ly pro­lif­ic writer on this sub­ject and one would hope that future works would include a hands-on” guide for Jew­ish com­mu­nal groups. There is a press­ing need to address how com­mu­ni­ties can iden­ti­fy and recruit young lead­ers, cul­ti­vat­ing and nur­tur­ing the nec­es­sary qual­i­ties for lead­er­ship. The oth­er crit­i­cal piece to this, per­haps a hard­er chal­lenge to meet, is cre­at­ing envi­ron­ments that are con­ducive to nur­tur­ing and sus­tain­ing effec­tive Jew­ish lead­ers once they assume the man­tle of lead­er­ship. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index.
William Liss-Levin­son is vice pres­i­dent, chief strat­e­gy & oper­a­tions offi­cer of Cas­tle Con­nol­ly Med­ical Ltd., a con­sumer health research, infor­ma­tion, and pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny. He holds a Ph.D. in edu­ca­tion and is a mem­ber of the board of direc­tors of the Jew­ish Book Council.

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