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The Pardon of a Jew
We have seen Pope John Paul II with his face to the Wailing Wall, asking pardon once again. Today it is we who ask pardon, faithful to the Jewish precept which points out the obligation to confess not only the wrong we have committed as individuals, but also the collective sins of the society in which we live. I do it in my name, representing only those who feel themselves represented in this writing, convinced that to ask for a sincere pardon does not weaken but strengthens the one who confesses his fault before his conscience and before God.
We need to ask pardon for having closed our eyes and denied the existence of Jewish poverty.
For centuries, one of the myths created and diffused by antisemites was that all Jews were rich. From another point of view, we have embraced this discourse, forgetting the pockets of poverty which affect our community, and not ours only. We have allowed public school closings, while at the same time projects which favor distractions and entertainment have grown. We have allowed ourselves to continue to celebrate sumptuous weddings and Bar Mitzvahs without demanding the tithes from the families celebrating the feasts, while we should have encouraged them to multiply their joy by helping their neighbor. We engaged the community in sterile disputes while the need for help has tripled and the AMIA has seen an imbalance in its budget for social assistance in the face of the indifference of those who could have brought solutions. For this we ask pardon.
We need to ask pardon for the discrimination to which the Jewish tradition has subjected women for centuries.
The Torah in Genesis (Ch. 2) teaches us that women were created from Adam’s side. Genesis (Ch. 1) also insists that men and women were created simultaneously. These two sources have existed side by side for centuries, though Jewish masters have almost always preferred to leave aside the important contribution of women. In this way women have been excluded from the rabbinate, have not been counted at the beginning of community prayer, and have been considered incapable of accomplishing some of the divine precepts. Daily they have had to listen to how we men thank God “for not having been made women.” It is time to correct this error. For this, Lord, we ask your pardon.
We need to ask pardon for the conduct of so many of our brothers during the Shoah.
All of the survivors agree that “the indifference of the Allies and friends was as painful as the cruelty of the enemies.” While in the camps of suffering and death, if the Jews had known that the world knew of the horrors but chose not to become involved, I doubt that they would have had the desire and the strength to survive. Documents discovered by researchers in the USA and in Israel do not permit us to doubt: The Allies were well informed of each step in the final solution. Elie Wiesel teaches us that the names Treblinka and Majdanek appeared in the news: people were not ignorant of the tragic meaning of these places. Unbelievably, the same thing can be said of the Jewish community: it did not respond to the cries from the heart of its brothers and sisters in Nazi Europe. Anyone who read the New York Times in Dec. 1942 knew that two million Jews had already been assassinated and that another four million risked the same fate. However, the majority of leaders of the Jewish community believed that, in a world full of enemies, Roosevelt represented the best the Jews could aspire to, and history has already judged that the American president was much more interested in winning the war than in saving the Jews. Nahum Goldman, principal leader of the Jewish diaspora at that time, maintains in his autobiography: We are the generation condemned not only to witness the destruction of a third of its people, but also guilty of having accepted it without a resistance worthy of the name. While hundreds and thousands of Jews were brought to the crematorium ovens, the great majority of their brothers in the USA didn’t change their agenda by much, not believing it necessary to march on the White House daily with concrete demands, or to interrupt their meals or their festive dances or their visits to the theatre and to concerts. “The final solution could not have been stopped by American Jewry, but it ought to have been insupportable, and it was not,” wrote Kaskel Lookstein in 1945. For that, God, we ask your pardon.
We need to ask pardon for the conduct of many of our brothers at the time of the proceedings in Argentina.
The evil in our country between the years 1976-1983 was possible not only because murderous leaders seized power and systematically violated human rights, but also because they had as a framework the silence of “good people” – “the voluntary executioners of Eidela”, according to the words of the writer Daniel Goldhagen. My master, the Rabbi Marshall Meyer, in Judaism and Christianity in the Face of State Violence writes: “It is a fact that when the disappearances began to multiply, those in charge of caring for the relatives and families of Jews who had disappeared systematically advised them not to have recourse to Habeas Corpus… . I believe that the recommendation was motivated by the desire to maintain “cordial relations” with the dictatorial government, believing that in this way they would succeed in saving many more Jewish lives. My position was that history has proven with exceptional clarity that there was little that peaceful and cordial relations with evil did to reduce a greater number of deaths. Meyer has taught us that Judaism demands that we fight against all the forces which profane human life in general, and that when Jews are concerned only with Jews, they violate the very bases of our holy tradition, and when any human being undergoes the deprivation of his liberty, all human beings are likewise threatened. Many Jews, including Rabbis, turned away their faces, their vision and their hearts. For that, God, we ask pardon.
We need to ask pardon for having abandoned the principles of the Torah. While a great number of us live our tradition passionately, thousands in each generation abandon Jewish principles. We believe that our world would be much more visible if we would return to the spirit of such thousand-year-old laws as the following:
• To abstain from lying ways;
• To not accept ‘jars of wine’ for they pervert just causes;
• To not oppress the stranger, the orphan, or the widow;
• To not distort the rights of the poor;
• To observe the Sabboth;
• To love one’s neighbor as oneself.
For every time that we have abandoned the Way, we ask your pardon.
Differing from Catholicism in hierarchical structure in which the Pope in his pardon includes the whole body of the Church, we Jews need to multiply our pardon, for what pertains to one cannot be substituted for another, and the collective only adds to what is individual.
* Mario Rojzman is Rabbi of Bet-Elwood in Buenos Aires. His article appeared in Criterio, No. 2250 V/2000 and is reprinted here with permission. It has been translated from Spanish and French.