Mitzvah Initiative Overview

The Mitzvah Initiative is an effort by Chancellor Arnold Eisen of the Jewish Theological Seminary to develop a renewed understanding of mitzvot. Dr. Eisen believes that the performance of Mitzvot of all kinds, both ethical and ritual is the cornerstone of Judaism. They take us beyond, “I feel Jewish” or “I am proud of being Jewish”, neither of which alone will guarantee the survival of Judaism and the Jewish people. Only self-consciously performed Jewish acts, Mitzvot, can do this. Feelings alone, even articulated to our children, without actions cannot effectively transmit Judaism from one generation to the next. And to be self-consciously performed as uniquely Jewish acts, they must be informed (think of the medical terminology here of “informed consent). Since the old language of Mitzvot, the “because I said so” approach doesn’t work for most of us, and since even doing a good deed is not always a compelling motivation, Eisen says that we need to come up with a new language for the rationale of doing Mitzvot in general and for individual mitzvot as well. I can’t do this for you; that would put it back in the “I said so” category, but I can do it with you. (from Rabbi Carl Wolkin's Rosh Hashanah 2010 sermon on the Mitzvah Initiative--full text may be downloaded below)

That being said, our congregation along with many other Conservative congregations all across the country are joining Chancellor Eisen in this effort to change the way we think about mitzvot. At Congregation Beth Shalom, we feel this concept has groundbreaking potential so we have chosen to attempt to bring this material to you in a very different way.

Each month a new mitzvah will be presented to CBS congregants in a variety of ways. There will be traditional learning opportunities and volunteer opportunities, BUT if you cannot attend a session, YOU can still join us in this "discussion" by participating in our online study sessions. You can do them whenever you want; you can choose to learn alone or with friends or family...YOU decide.

All you have to do is:

  1. go to the month you want to study (links will be added below at the start of each month)
  2. watch the short video
  3. download and study the material
  4. perform a mitzvah (if you a moved to do so)
  5. fill out the online survey for the month to let us know you have participated

We are hoping that this will not only change the way we think about mitzvot, but also the way we offer some of our classes so everyone who wants to has the chance to study and "weigh in" on this important subject.


We will begin with some background material:

Click here to download Rabbi Wolkin's Rosh Hashanah Sermon on the Mitzvah Initiative.

Click here to download our first curriculum source material from JTS on a History of the Idea of Mitzvot.


When you read the source material, you may find it helpful to look at the discussion questions first, then read the texts, then go back to the discussion questions to see if anything you have studied makes you feel any differently than you did at the beginning.

If you have any comments about this new initiative OR our new way of presenting it, please contact Leann Blue a t[email protected].


Links to Monthly Online Learning:


CBS News & Events

Friday, December 6, 2019 - 6:00pm
Wednesday, December 11, 2019 - 7:00pm
Thursday, December 12, 2019 - 7:00pm