Forgiveness in Judaism

In Jewish teachings, GD does not forgive us for person-to-person transgressions. It is the perpetrator’s responsibility to ask forgiveness of the hurt party. GD can only grant forgiveness for sins between a person and GD — such as not keeping Kosher or not honoring the Sabbath (Shabbat).

In Judaism, you must go directly to the person you have hurt and ask for forgiveness, be fully accountable (no excuses or justifications) and do what you can to make amends. Moreover, you must do your own self-work and self-repair, so as not to repeat the hurtful behavior.

An appeal for forgiveness may be turned down three times by the hurt party. If forgiveness is not forthcoming, the transgressor should bring three witnesses on the second or third attempt to express greater humbleness and sincerity. (Rabbi Moses Maimonides/Shulchan Aruch). After three sincere appeals for forgiveness and attempts to make amends, the transgressor is considered to have atoned, even if the hurt party cannot grant forgiveness.

You may feel greatly relieved by the forgiveness process and overjoyed by your newly healed relationship with the other person! Conversely, you may forgive, but choose to have limited interaction with the other person, or none at all. Forgiveness isn’t relationship dependent. It simply means you have granted the other person forgiveness on a spiritual level, which opens the door for them to experience the spiritual growth of t’shuva.

There’s always a chance the person you’re apologizing to might not be ready to accept your apology. Don’t assume or expect that it will be accepted, no matter how sincere you are or how willing you are to make amends. Depending upon the amount of pain and damage inflicted, forgiveness is not an easy task and shouldn’t be an expectation.

The Jewish Sages did NOT consider all sins to be forgivable. They were quite clear on the fact that some deeds are so egregious, they inflict irreparable damage on the victim or target. Person-to-person atrocities such as abuse, rape, domestic violence and habitual slander fall into that category. On a larger scale, there is genocide, torture and deprivation of human rights.

In regards to slander, a “master slanderer” has caused damage beyond repair. Once numerous people have heard it, the damage cannot be undone.

The Chazal (Jewish Sages) considered words to be so powerful, they said you could “murder” someone with your words. They were quite advanced for their time in their understanding that a person can murder another person in ways other than the literal, by killing essential components of human life — such as trust, self-worth, relationships, potential relationships, community standing, reputation and livelihood. They considered humiliating a person, especially in front of others, to be equivalent to “shedding their blood.”

A final note: In Jewish teachings, no one is permitted to forgive a person for a sin committed against someone else. For example, I cannot say I forgive Joe for pain he inflicted on Jane. It doesn’t work that way and that only serves to inflict further shame and pain on the hurt party.

These ethical laws exist in Judaism to bring about the opportunity for true healing and transformation through a process that involves a sincere apology, personal accountability, self-repair and amends.

Thoughts?


In Judaism, it’s customary to use G-d in written or typed documents. I simply prefer GD.

11 thoughts on “Forgiveness in Judaism

  1. Shaina

    This is really useful and pragmatic teachings. It is a release of tension and guilt. I remember making amends on Yom Kippur many years ago. This cleared my conscience and helped me move on with my life. I am so grateful for this tradition.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Phil

    Another fabulous lesson! Good job! Forgiveness is no doubt one of the most important aspects in Jewish learning. Forgiving and being forgiven is the best part of healing in relationships and interaction with our fellow man. I liked reading the part about G-d not forgiving the offenses between people, and that we have to do the part of making amends. I also liked the part of making three efforts and on number two and three making sure that there are witnesses so that your effort produces results even if the person does not forgive you. We need to be reminded that we do need to take action when we have offended others, as well as learning to forgive others who have offended us, and by doing these things, not only repairing the damage done, but, bringing us closer to G-d through the cleansing process of forgiving and being forgiven.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Soul Circle

      Many thanks and much appreciation for your input, Phil! It’s great to have you accompany me on this journey and add your voice to the conversation. 🌺

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Phil

        You are very welcome and it is I who is very grateful for the opportunity to study and hear your profound words! That is especially true during these trying times where our only opportunity right now is through these types of connections to keep us focused and sharing time together so that we do not feel so alone and isolated. We need encouragement and shared times together now more than ever!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: The Good Inclination and The Evil Inclination (Yetzer Hara, Yetzer Hatov) – The Wild Pomegranate

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