Jewish Repentance: Tough Demands

by Rabbi Jill Maderer

Is it enough to confess to God?  What if it’s too messy to mend a relationship with a person?  Last Friday night, our Interfaith Families Connection Group hosted a Shabbat dinner about the High Holy Days.  When I shared this High Holy Day prayer, it sparked passionate debate about tshuvah, repentance.  The text reads: “For transgressions against God, the Day of Atonement atones; but for transgressions of one human being against another, the Day of Atonement does not atone until they have made peace with one another.”

What if it’s too painful and messy to confess and mend a relationship directly with another person?  Can’t heartfelt confession in prayer be sufficient?  I argued, no.  I don’t believe the Mishnah, or Jewish thought, accepts prayer-only confession for a human conflict as sufficiant.  Maimonides’ steps of repentance have been embraced in Jewish thought; the Jewish process demands that we recognize our transgressions, confess, apologize, and act differently if given the opportunity. 

The Jewish process of tshuvah is tough!  But do you think it’s worth it for our relationships?  Or do you think it’s unreasonable?  Share your comments here.

As we enter Elul, the Hebrew month that precedes the Days of Awe, I invite you to visit the blog so that we may share our experiences of spiritual preparation for the High Holy Days.