All Humans Are Responsible For One Another

Making celebrations ethical and joyous.

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Ethical Smahot is a program begun initially in Washington D.C. to increase the expression of Jewish values in our celebrations. We have signatories from all major movements of Judaism and welcome organizations, such as local boards of rabbis, to sign on as well. We invite all rabbis and cantors to join the Ethical Smachot program by signing on to the Ethical Smahot Website and encourage you to use this document to begin a conversation in your communities. 

"Rejoice in your celebration!" Jewish life cycle events, like weddings or b'nei mitzvah, are moments for celebration and renewal. These times of our rejoicing with family and friends are also opportunities for us to renew our relationship with God, Torah, and Israel.

Tzniut (Modesty)

"One should walk modestly with your God." The Jewish concept of modesty relates to all parts of a person's life. Judaism teaches that us to be modest with our money, speech, clothing, and behavior. At these pivotal moments we have the opportunity to walk with dignity, respect, and humility with God by the way we plan our event. We should take care that the clothing we wear shows respect for our bodies. Our bodies are houses for our souls, made b'tzelem elohim--in the image of God. We should take care to dress in a way that encourages confidence and respect and minimizes the oversexualizing so prevalent in our culture. We should also take care not to dress in any other vulgar way, whether it is overly showy or flashy.

Similarly, we should avoid conspicuous consumption and overspending. Every family knows what it can afford, and of course, some families can afford to celebrate more lavishly than others. Still, it is a great principle of Judaism not to cause shame to others and we should take great care in planning our events so that others do not feel shame in not being able to afford the same level of luxury. This may lead to families overextending themselves economically so that they can "keep up with the Cohens." That could create hardships where people will be unable to meet their responsibilities to spouses and children, which would be a violation of Jewish law.

Ask yourself: do the clothes that I and my family have chosen portray each of us at our most dignified? Would I wear this on a visit to meet the president at the White House? Do these clothes encourage us to carry ourselves with respect as creatures made in God's image and filled with a spark of holiness? In the choices I make in celebrating, is the focus on connection with God and community, or on material things? Can I spend less and use more money towards tzedakah?

Modesty should also be emphasized in our speech; we should take care in how we speak to one another. We should consider even during speeches and toasts, our language and ideas should be presented with consideration for the feelings of, and with respect for, the loved ones gathered together.

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Rabbi Alana Suskin

Alana Suskin received her Rabbinic Ordination and Master of Rabbinic Studies from the University of Judaism's Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.

Joshua Ginsberg received his Rabbinic Ordination and Master of Hebrew Letters from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Born and raised in the Chicago area, he holds a B.A. magna cum laude from Loyola University of Chicago. He currently serves as the Assistant Director of Hillel at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.