Culture

A communal confession on Yom Kippur

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

As Temple Israel in Great Neck, Long Island celebrates the soldiers that “defended” Israel in its devastation of Gaza during the Jewish High Holidays, the run-up to Yom Kippur is eliciting another, diametrically opposed, challenge to Jewish life. This comes from Rabbi Brant Rosen who just published his congregation’s confession that will be prayed on Yom Kippur.

Those on the political right and even those progressive Jews who continue to sit on the fence with regard to Israel and Jewish life in America, should take notice. Rabbi Rosen’s confession is wide-ranging. His title, “A Confession of Communal Complicity,” says it all. Unlike most rabbis during the High Holidays, Rabbi Rosen isn’t hiding behind a liturgy developed when Jews had little power. Rabbi Rosen knows that the Jewish situation in the world has changed from powerlessness to power. He isn’t pulling any religious or political punches.

Rabbi Rosen begins with a short introduction about the traditional prayer of confession on Yom Kippur. He continues with the prayer itself:

I’ve written a new Al Chet prayer that we will be using during Yom Kippur services at Tzedek Chicago. The Al Chet is part of the Vidui – or Confession – in which the congregation stands up and publicly confesses the sins of their community. It is at its core, an open statement of communal complicity.

I’ll say no more because I think the words really do speak for themselves. Feel free to share and use.

We say together:

עַל חֵטְא שֶׁחָטָאנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ
Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha…
(For the wrong we have done before you…)

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for forgetting that we were all once strangers in a strange land;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for preferring militarized fences to open borders.

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for supporting trade policies and murderous regimes that uproot people, families and communities;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for drawing lines and turning away those who come to our country seeking a better life.

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for demonizing migrants as threats to be feared;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for labeling human beings as “illegal.”

וְעַל כֻּלָּם אֱלוֹהַּ סְלִיחוֹת סְלַח לָנוּ, מְחַל לָנוּ כַּפֶּר לַנוּ
Ve’al kulam eloha selichot selach lanu, mechal lanu, kaper lanu.
(For all these, source of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, receive our atonement.)

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for internalizing and assenting to racist ideologies;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for allowing oppressive systems to continue unchecked.

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for our complicity in regularly profiling, incarcerating and murdering people of color;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for denying fair housing, public schools and greater opportunity to our black and brown communities.

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for dehumanizing, excluding and murdering gay, lesbian, trans and queer people;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for shaming and stigmatizing the infirm, the mentally and physically disabled, and the elderly.

וְעַל כֻּלָּם אֱלוֹהַּ סְלִיחוֹת סְלַח לָנוּ, מְחַל לָנוּ כַּפֶּר לַנוּ
Ve’al kulam eloha selichot selach lanu, mechal lanu, kaper lanu.
(For all these, source of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, receive our atonement.)

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for buying into and promoting the ideology of American exceptionalism;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for oppressing other peoples and nations in the name of American power and influence;

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for profiting off of weapons of death and destruction;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for contributing to the increased militarization of our nation and our world.

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for expanding our military budget while we cut essential services here at home;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for believing that militarism and violence will ensure our collective security.

וְעַל כֻּלָּם אֱלוֹהַּ סְלִיחוֹת סְלַח לָנוּ, מְחַל לָנוּ כַּפֶּר לַנוּ
Ve’al kulam eloha selichot selach lanu, mechal lanu, kaper lanu.
(For all these, source of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, receive our atonement.)

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for the destruction of homes, expropriation of land and warehousing of humanity;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for a brutal and crushing military occupation.

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for blockading 1.8 million Gazans inside an open air prison;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for repeatedly unleashing devastating military firepower on a population trapped in a tiny strip of land.

Al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for wedding sacred Jewish spiritual tradition to political nationalism and militarism;
Ve’ al chet she’chatanu lifanecha for rationalizing away Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.

וְעַל כֻּלָּם אֱלוֹהַּ סְלִיחוֹת סְלַח לָנוּ, מְחַל לָנוּ כַּפֶּר לַנוּ
Ve’al kulam eloha selichot selach lanu, mechal lanu, kaper lanu.
(For all these, source of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, receive our atonement.)

Prayers of confession are usually short or long, depending on where clergy want to focus the congregation’s attention. Usually, such prayers are throw-aways, diversions. Everyone knows that the congregation is going to go on as if the prayer had never been offered. Especially for the affluent and empowered, prayers of confession are prayed quite easily. Lunch is right around the corner. Gated homes await them.

Rabbi Rosen’s prayer is different. It’s concise and hard hitting. There aren’t any loopholes. Living and serving in Chicago, and in the founding days of a new synagogue, Tzedek Shalom, Rabbi Rosen places Jews squarely in the American empire, as beneficiaries and enablers. In short, Jews are riding high. Rabbi Rosen also places the Israeli empire on notice. As a Jewish affair, Jews have particular responsibility for Israel. The oppression of Palestinians is central; it forms the backbone of the confessional prayer. From its opening, everyone knows where the prayer is heading.

Notice Rabbi Rosen’s specificity – a “brutal and crushing military occupation” – “blockading 1.8 million Gazans in an open air prison” – “unleashing devastating military firepower on a population trapped in a tiny strip of land” – “wedding sacred Jewish spiritual tradition to political nationalism and militarism” – “rationalizing away Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people.” Rabbi Rosen is relentless.

In a few confessional sentences, Rabbi Rosen defines Judaism and the Jewish community as it has become. But the confession itself provides Jews with a choice. On the day of days, when God judges Jews for who we are, offering another possibility if confession is real and justice is pursued, a change is possible. With Rabbi Rosen’s specificity, though, his reminder is crucial.

Though rabbis usually pedal Yom Kippur as a day of individual introspection and challenge, Rabbi Rosen’s confession is communal. Individual Jews as part of a larger communal movement must turn away from the empire injustice Jews are deeply wedded to. America and Israel, as they are today, are false Gods, leading Jews astray. Rabbi Rosen’s prayer is an ancient challenge for today. Is the Jewish community, as a community, engaging in the Jewish sin of sins, idolatry?

Issuing his congregational Yom Kippur confession days before the holy day itself is a risk and challenge. How dare a rabbi in good standing accuse the Jewish community of feasting at the table of empire, injustice and idolatry? In conscience, can he – can we – remain silent?

42 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Remarkable.

Because this prayer is given in advance, other congregations can ask that it be made part of their own. And thereby begin conversations to move American Jewish communal life away from its present role as an Israel-support mechanism.

Just read the prayer. Whew…beautiful, honest, deep and wide. Soulfully transformational. Went for the guts of the issues with grace and grit.

Thank you Rabbi Rosen

Only two comments. Come on folks hope you read and take it in.

Rabbi Brant Rosen is a man of grace, observance, and true faith. He offers up prayers and confession not only for him and his congregation, but also for millions to partake of. If only folks would and could listen to (absorb) his words and repeat them~ even if they have… Read more »

RE: “How dare a rabbi in good standing accuse the Jewish community of feasting at the table of empire, injustice and idolatry?” ~ Marc Ellis

HOW DARE HE!
HOW DARE HE!
HOW DARE HE! ! !

.
seems like Rabbi Brant Rosen is a man who wants nothing to come between himself and G-d
and he wants the same for every & all
.
G-d Bless Rabbi Brant Rosen
.