From Sanctuary to Boardroom A Jewish Approach to Leadership


Leadership is a central theme

of Jewish history and a pressing concern for contemporary Jewish organizational life. From Sanctuary to Boardroom: A Jewish Approach to Leadership examines key Jewish texts on leadership and applies these concepts to today’s issues associated with leading and managing organizations. Discussing subjects such as authority, charisma, uses and abuses of power, and shared power, the book offers an understanding of the key classical models of Jewish leadership, helps explicate these models in clear and communicative style, and translates these models into issues and questions which are the core of contemporary concern of existing and future Jewish leaders.


From Sanctuary to Boardroom takes you on an educational journey that will widen your worldview on Jewish leadership and motivate you to put the leadership lessons into practice. Lewis does an extraordinary job culling massive amounts of knowledge into a book that is readable, illuminating, and intellectually stimulating. Lewis is a pioneer; there is no other book that examines the intersection between Judaism and leadership. Two thumbs up!”

—David G. Altman, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President, Research and Innovation
Center for Creative Leadership




To paraphrase the youngest child at the table, “Why is Jewish leadership different from all other leadership?” Because, Hal Lewis argues in From Sanctuary to Boardroom: A Jewish Approach to Leadership, our best contemporary leadership practices are grounded in tradition and evolve from classical Jewish writings. For advice on leadership, yes, we can seek out Warren Bennis or Jim Collins, but we can also go right to the Torah.

For those of us who are in the business of training future Jewish professionals, and for those of us who lead Jewish organizations, lay or religious, there have been few studies on Jewish leadership to which we could refer. In Lewis’ book, we have a remarkable resource for insights into integrating the “Jewish” with the “leadership” in our teaching and our performance. He delineates the texts, traditions and historical perspectives on the origins of Jewish leadership. Most of us act on them from training, experience and, often, intuitively. But as professional leaders, and as we teach others, we can always improve our management methods.

And what can we review, or learn, from Lewis’ study? Leadership, he says, should be shared with others. If those who follow your lead think of themselves as partners in a shared responsibility, you have forged the key to the success of a community or an organization. To be effective, he notes, leadership needs to be limited in power, lest those with the most power abuse it.

True leadership, he asserts, isn’t a matter of someone’s title, but must stem from behavior. Be strong in character and compassion; be trustworthy and humble; be tenacious and fair. (The Hebrew word for leadership, manhigut, comes from the root word for “behavior.”) And on an optimistic note, he urges the reader to nurture leadership in others because every Jew is a potential leader. In discussing each quality, Lewis provides the reader with specific texts that describe and define qualities of leadership. Jews throughout history, he reminds us, whether or not they were in power, always had opportunities to exercise leadership within their communities. Leadership, he says, should incorporate a sense of the Godly. He writes, “Behaviors of effective leaders include first piety — a sense that every leader has been embraced, selected and nurtured by God, which means that a human leader’s power is inherently limited and no human leader can ever exert absolute control.” Just as important, “No leader can afford to ignore the needs of his or her followers and succeed over the long-term. In the classical sense then, one’s power to lead comes from two places — God and the people.”

People are turning to Judaism for insight into many different topics. Certainly, those of us in positions of leadership should look to our origins and our past so that our lay and professional leadership is grounded in Jewish values. Only then can we make a positive impact in the Jewish world and in the world at large. “Yasher Koach” to Lewis for writing an important book that must be added to our leadership libraries.

By: Cindy Goldstein
Executive Director, The Darrell D. Friedman Institute for Professional Development at the Weinberg Center
published: JCSANA News 5/2007


“Hal Lewis has done all of us a great favor. In reviewing centuries of Jewish literature and modern theories of leadership he has created a handbook for all of those who wish to make a difference, not only in the Jewish world but in the world-at-large. From Sanctuary to Boardroom reminds us that a leader needs followers and leaders must embody the best of competence and good character. When leadership is seen as a partnership then organizations move forward, visions are realized and goals are met. I encourage all those who are leaders, who wish to be leaders, or simply are involved in any form of organizational life, whether it be religious or secular, to carefully read the book for in it is much knowledge and great truth.”

—Rabbi Vernon Kurtz
past President, International Rabbinical Assembly


“The future of North American Jewry rests on our ability to train visionary leaders who inspire our communities and are deeply grounded in Jewish values. Hal Lewis’ masterful work assembles a wealth of texts, a ready-made curriculum that will promote spirited discussion and thoughtful engagement with traditional sources. Lewis’s nuanced discussions of the uses and potential abuses of power have essential contemporary relevance at a time when we search for role models committed to ethical leadership. From Sanctuary to Boardroom will go on the required reading list for both our governing board and our student leadership.”

—Rabbi Jeffrey A. Summit
Executive Director, Tufts University Hillel


“This book is a truly remarkable accomplishment. Hal Lewis has brilliantly synthesized Jewish wisdom through the ages with modern literature on leadership styles, values and efficacy. His challenge to those who call themselves leaders is a clarion call for all who aspire to or claim that role for today and tomorrow to master both worlds of wisdom. The abiding nature of Jewish teachings has been mined and polished in ways I’ve not seen before. This book demands a presence in the libraries of Jewish volunteers and professionals to be visited and re-visited through time beyond measure.”

—Gerald Bubis
Founding Director of Hebrew Union College’s School of Jewish Communal Service and Alfred Gottschalk Professor Emeritus of Jewish Communal Studies


Hal M. Lewis