Repentance in Judaism

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See also: Forgiveness

Repentance (Hebrew: תשובה‎, literally "return", pronounced "tshuva" or "teshuva") is one element of atoning for sin in Judaism.

A Jewish penitent is traditionally known as a baal teshuva (lit. "master of repentance" or "master of return") (Hebrew: בעל תשובה‎; for a woman:Hebrew: בעלת תשובה‎, baalat teshuva; plural: Hebrew: בעלי תשובה‎, baalei teshuva). An alternative modern term is hozer beteshuva (Hebrew: חוזר בתשובה‎) (lit. "returning in repentance").

Repentance and Creation[edit]

According to the Talmud, God created repentance before He created the physical universe, making it among the first things created. (Nedarim 39b).[1]

When to repent[edit]

One should repent immediately. Because of Judaism's understanding of the annual process of Divine Judgment, Jews believe that God is particularly open to repentance during period from the beginning of the month of Ellul through the High Holiday season, ie. Rosh HaShanah (the Day of Judgement), Aseret Yimei Teshuva (the Ten Days of Repentance), Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), and according to Kaballah, Hoshana Rabbah.

How to repent[edit]

Numerous guides to the repentance process can be found in rabbinical literature. See especially Maimonides' Rules of Repentance in the Mishneh Torah.

According to Gates of Repentance, a standard work of Jewish ethics written by Rabbenu Yonah of Gerona, a sinner repents by:[2]

  • regretting/acknowledging the sin;
  • forsaking the sin (see below);
  • worrying about the future consequences of the sin;
  • acting and speaking with humility;
  • acting in a way opposite to that of the sin (for example, for the sin of lying, one should speak the truth);
  • understanding the magnitude of the sin;
  • refraining from lesser sins for the purpose of safeguarding oneself against committing greater sins;
  • confessing the sin;
  • praying for atonement;
  • correcting the sin however possible (for example, if one stole an object, the stolen item must be returned or if one slanders another, the slanderer must ask the injured party for forgiveness);
  • pursuing works of chesed and truth;
  • remembering the sin for the rest of one's life;
  • refraining from committing the same sin if the opportunity presents itself again;
  • teaching others not to sin.

Forsaking the sin[edit]

The second of Rabbenu Yonah's "Principles of Repentance" is "forsaking the sin" (Hebrew: עזיבת–החטא, azivat-hachet). After regretting the sin (Rabbenu Yonah's first principle), the penitent must resolve never to repeat the sin.[3] However, Judaism recognizes that the process of repentance varies from penitent to penitent and from sin to sin. For example, a non-habitual sinner often feels the sting of the sin more acutely than the habitual sinner. Therefore, a non-habitual sinner will have an easier time repenting, because he or she will be less likely to repeat the sinful behavior.[1]

The case of the habitual sinner is more complex. If the habitual sinner regrets his or her sin at all, that regret alone clearly does not translate into a change in behavior. In such a case, Rabbi Nosson Scherman recommends devising "a personal system of reward and punishment" and to avoid circumstances which may cause temptation toward the sin being repented for.[1] The Talmud teaches, "Who is the penitent whose repentance ascends until the Throne of Glory? — one who is tested and emerges guiltless" (Yoma 86b).[4]

Animal sacrifice[edit]

When the Temple in Jerusalem is active, a Jew is also required to bring various sacrifices for certain types of sins, and to perform a version of the viduy confession ritual as part of the sacrifical ritual.

In a number of places the Babylonian Talmud emphasises that performing charitable deeds, praying, and studying Torah are more meritorius than animal sacrifice, and that the former can replace animal sacrifice when the Temple is not active.

Once, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was walking with his disciple, Rabbi Yehoshua, near Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Y'hoshua looked at the Temple ruins and said "Alas for us!! The place that atoned for the sins of the people Israel lies in ruins!" Then Rabbi Yohannan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: "Be not grieved, my son. There is another equally meritorious way of gaining ritual atonement, even though the Temple is destroyed. We can still gain ritual atonement through deeds of loving-kindness. For it is written 'Lovingkindness I desire, not sacrifice.'" (Hosea 6:6)
Midrash Avot D'Rabbi Nathan 4:5
Rabbi Elazar said: Doing righteous deeds of charity is greater than offering all of the sacrifices, as it is written: "Doing charity and justice is more desirable to the Lord than sacrifice" (Proverbs 21:3).
Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 49

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Scherman, Nosson. "An Overview — Day of Atonement and Purity." An Overview. The Complete ArtScroll Machzor: Yom Kippur. By Scherman. Trans. Scherman. Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, 2008. XIV-XXII.
  2. ^ Yonah Ben Avraham of Gerona. Shaarei Teshuva: The Gates of Repentance. Trans. Shraga Silverstein. Jerusalem, Israel: Feldheim Publishers, 1971. Print.
  3. ^ Yonah, 14-15
  4. ^ qtd. in Yonah, 65

[1] [2]

External links[edit]

  1. ^ Theological dictionary of the Old Testament: Vol.14 p473 G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, Heinz-Josef Fabry - 2004 "The noun t'suba occurs 4 times in the Dtr History, twice in the Chronicler's History and in Job."
  2. ^ Jacob J. Petuchowski, "The Concept of 'Teshuva' in the Bible and Talmud", Judaism 17 (1968)