I frequently find myself in conversation with Jews who believe that forgiveness is not a Jewish practice. “The other person has to do teshuvah (make amends) first.” “How would society enforce social norms if forgiveness were offered too quickly?” Or even, “Forgiveness is a Christian concept, not a Jewish one.”
There is much to consider in these questions, but there is no doubt that forgiveness is a critically important part of Jewish theology and practice. Most obviously, during the Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (Ten Days of Repentance) and Yom Kippur, we not only repent for our own sins, but must be ready to respond to others’ requests for forgiveness from us.
The capacity to forgive is fundamental to the process of redifat shalom (pursuing peace). When there is conflict between people, wrongs have been committed. Amends must be made for harmful words and actions. But without the possibility of forgiveness, no conflict could be resolved. As such, a person who aspires to be a rodef shalom (pursuer of peace) must seek to cultivate a heart that is ready to forgive when the circumstances are right.
At this sacred season, we offer you a set of materials exploring some of the complexities of forgiveness from within Jewish texts. We explore the essential practice of forgiveness, the relationship of the offender’s teshuva (repentance) to the victim’s willingness to forgive, the limits of forgiveness, and the virtue of a forgiving heart. These materials draw heavily on the work of my colleagues Rabbi Dr. Daniel Roth and Rabbi Dr. Howard Kaminsky. We believe the texts are enriching as Torah study, and we accompany them with guiding questions that can lead learners to relate the texts to their own personal practice of forgiveness.
Feel free to use these for a series of adult education sessions, or pick one or two sections for use during the holidays, or perhaps on Yom Kippur afternoon. For further study of these issues, we recommend Dr. Kaminsky’s book, Fundamentals of Jewish Conflict Resolution: Traditional Jewish Perspectives on Resolving Interpersonal Conflicts (Boston: Academic Studies Press, forthcoming).
We at PRSC hope that these materials will enrich your prayer and reflection during these Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe).
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