Thursday, November 25, 2010

Judaism and Confessionals Don't Mix

Guest Post by: Rabbi Motty Finkel

This post was written before I posted Rabbi Coffman’s response. Rabbi Finkel is responding to the original post written by Rabbi Coffman. Rabbi Finkel's words are always worth reading. I apologize to the author for the delay in getting it posted. It was an inadvertent error on my part.

The post “Beyond Troubling” taking Rabbi Coffman to task for seeking to glorify Orthodox Jewish criminals who ‘admit’ guilt and publicly ‘apologize’ following their conviction was a very important point to make.

If you recall this was not the first article written by an Orthodox rabbi seeking to glorify a criminal who ‘apologized’. Following the heroic landing of a USAir jumbo jet by Captain Sully into the Hudson River, another rabbi said that Sully was merely doing his job, but Bernie Madoff who ‘admitted’ to fraud is a true Jewish hero. That Orthodox rabbi later admitted his error.

Both of these Orthodox rabbis seem to miss very crucial points:

• Admitting guilt after you are already caught is called ‘copping a plea’ and is meaningless lip service recommended by a slick lawyer to get pity from a judge.
• The Jewish definition of Teshuva goes far beyond mere lip service. One must take action to undo the crime committed.
• Most importantly, some crimes fall beyond the brush of being able to do Teshuva in this world. Judaism do not have confessionals and some sins are final. Making a public Chillul Hashem or murder don’t have a quick fix no matter how hard a person tries.

This entire notion of Judaism accepting confessionals appears to be taking hold in the Yeshiva World too. One of the popular Yeshivish websites recently had a discussion entitled, “Teshuva for Retzicha”.

If this wasn’t bizarre enough this is one suggestion given: “Retzicha is not just ‘any’ aveirah. You can’t just read a sefer and say Okay I’m doing teshuva. I suggest you go to not just any local Orthodox rabbi but rather to an accepted godol such as a rosh yeshiva, mashgiach, chassidish rabbi, and one who is the top of the category. Like Rabbi Moshe Wolfson or Rabbi Mattisyahu Solomon”.

The Torah has this to say about one who commits cold-blooded intentional murder: “Even from my altar you can remove him to put him to death”. Regardless of status, stature, rank, or leadership role, a murderer is a murderer. They must pay the price. No mention of a confessional! Even a Cohen or Rabbi would face the same fate for their own actions.

Rabbi Coffman while meaning well is in the ‘conversion’ business. His speech is simply a ‘bait and switch’ tactic and traditional Orthodox Jews must understand this. Teshuva is not lip service, is not coping plea, nor can all sins be rectified in this world. Actions speak louder than words.

Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers) codifies how a judge must look at a criminal accused both at the time he is standing before them for justice as well as after the adjudication of the matter. Orthodox Judaism’s response to the question Rabbi Coffman answered is “Respect but Suspect”.

This means that when a Jew is accused of wrongdoing no matter how long the beard or how black the hat, we as a community must be vigilant to avoid two foreign concepts to Judaism: Confessionals and Crucifixion.

We as a community cannot crucify a suspected person until conviction (though reasonable steps to prevent further victimization should be implemented) while at the same time should not fall for and rally to a person who enters a confessional following conviction or prior to being put to death. Then all it is - is lip service.