The Jewish Ethical Wills Project

The Jewish Ethical Wills Project provides resources for community leaders wishing to offer their members guidance in creating ethical wills. The two-session curriculum explores ethical wills as an authentic Jewish practice that helps to articulate values, look at issues of legacy, and navigate liminal moments. Participating rabbis and educators receive everything they need to lead the program, including lesson plans, handouts, and videos.

The Ethical Wills Project is an initiative of JTS’s Center for Pastoral Education and the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan and is supported by a generous grant from the Charles H. Revson Foundation.

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Why Create an Ethical Will?

Ethical wills, sometimes called spiritual or legacy letters, are resources Jews have used for centuries to articulate and pass on deeply held values and beliefs. Historically, they were letters written by parents to children; now they often address a wider circle of friends and family, and can come in audio, video, or other creative formats. No matter the format, they contain a person’s moral legacy, including stories, life lessons, and blessings for the future. Unlike wills that govern material assets and property, ethical wills are not enforceable by law. They are values articulated, saved, and passed on for future generations.

There are many reasons to make an ethical will: to reflect on how we have lived and how we wish to live; to give and to ask for love; to pass on what we don’t want forgotten; to forgive and to be forgiven; to remember and to be remembered; to leave behind something personal and distinctive for friends and family.

For Facilitators

Rabbi Mychal Springer, former director of the Center for Pastoral Education at JTS, offers information and advice for facilitators of the Ethical Wills Project. 

How To Participate

The curriculum is available for free to communities and institutions interested in providing ethical wills programming. For more information, contact Rabbi Abigail Treu, director of the Center for Jewish Living at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan. 

Access the materials