Louis Newman —
The Refreshing Practice of Repentance

The High Holy Days create an annual ritual of repentance, both individual and collective. Louis Newman, who has explored repentance as an ethicist and a person in recovery, opens this up as a refreshing practice for every life, even beyond the lifetime of those to whom we would make amends.

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is an Associate Dean of Carleton College and John M. and Elizabeth W. Musser Professor of Religious Studies. He is the author of several books on Jewish ethics and theology, including Repentance: The Meaning and Practice of Teshuvah.

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So proud to call Louis Newman a friend and mentor! Wise and cogent exploration of such an important (and under-appreciated) theological exigency.

Very timely and helpful interview. Thank you!!!!!

For a Catholic we have been given by God the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Penance, Confession). It is so wonderful and freeing and really has to be an essential part of one's spiritual life. Wonderful. Blessed (Happy) the man's whose sin is remitted- Psalms.

Beautiful and intelligent interview- many thanks.

I can´t believe we are almost halfway through the interview with a Jewish Scholar about repentance and I just now heard the word `guilt´for the first time. Guilt is not repentance, is it? Is guilt on the way to repentance? Is it just an indulgence that makes it worse? It is wholly a Western invention?

Is the concept of repentance a preemptive strategy of opportunity for doing bad things?

Maybe this Jewish ethicist could talk about repentance for the current genocide being committed against Palestinians? He can begin there, I'll wait :)

You need to study contemporary history more before you make your knee-jerk comment which by the way has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Are you capable of listening to this speaker without your prejudice overcoming your capacity to learn and grow?

As a Christian who observes Atonement (i.e. Yom Kippur), but not in the Jewish manner (we concentrate more what we discern in its christological and eschatological meaning), I did think it odd that the Jewish scriptures regarding repentance were not discussed more, and lessons from them. Perhaps I missed that part of the program. Much to be learned therein, i.e. the Hebrew scriptures, on repentance. (I do recall one offhand reference to the ritual performed by the high priest on Yom Kippur, which is a biblical reference --the killing of one goat and the releasing of another goat into the wild -- that is prescribed in the Pentateuch.)

Dear Eric,
Much of modern day Jewish thought and observance is from rabbinical Judaism. In (very) brief, the transformations in Judaism that followed the destruction of the Temple. With no temple, it wasn't possible to continue the practice of animal sacrifice, which had been the core religious practice. The rabbis developed the concept of prayer as the core practice. The holidays and their theological and philosophical underpinnings, as well as the rituals and practices, are mostly derived from rabbinical judaism, and are not found in Torah explicitly. An excellent book on Jewish holidays is Irving Greenberg's "The Jewish Way"

Today's episode with Louis Newman was, as usual, clarifying, very helpful and his thinking is without doubt, 'from the heart'. I will read his book about repentance and I know it will help me and someone else I know. Thank you.

I only caught the last few minutes -

Is anyone out there doing this work, in a Krista Tippett worthy way, in relation to slavery and racism in the US? These words: repentance, denial, coming to grips with the harm, and most of all, healing - healing the nation (and the world) - healing each and all of our own souls since we have all been wounded by this most powerful of all industries. How do we take on this enormous, time-intensive, soul- searing process? Here are some titles, organizations, people who have influenced me.
Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database
Traces of the Trade (the movie about the DeWolf family's effort to reconcile themselves with their ancestor's business)
How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon
SURJ - Stand up for Racial Justice ("Calling people in rather than calling people out")
(Mass Slavery Apology) Racial Justice Rising Resources
Straight Outta Compton the movie
If Sons Then Heirs by Lorene Cary and the heir properties in the Carolinas - Hilton Head is lost property

Martin Luther King, Jr. (of course)
James Baldwin (He never gets old. See his videotaped debate at Cambridge with William F. Buckley and Toni Morrison's anthology of his writing.)
Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas Blackmon
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Americanah by Ngozi Adiche
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (and other writings)
The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist

and so much more!

These are powerful tools that Newman was discussing. How do we apply Penance and Confession to a societal sin that we are no longer participating in VIA THE OLD STRUCTURES, but that is continuing to have its effects in our daily lives without our realizing it.

Reminds me of Gandhi .... of Rumi / Qu'ran ... God makes lambs of wolves ... Romans:God's goodness leads us to repentance...George MacDonald ... The Princess and the Goblins ... repentance is the invisible thread that leads us back to God (Grandmother)!

Thank you so much for sharing this timely piece! It has caused me to deeply reconsider my own praxis of repentance during the High Holidays and I'd encourage everyone to share this with your congregation, family and others in your community ahead of Yom Kippur.

This talk gave me hope. I better understand the paradoxical nature of repentance - that joy and thrill can actually come of some harmful behavior. My heart and soul thanks you.

I really enjoyed this talk and could relate to much the speaker said as a person who tries to practice the 12 steps and a Catholic who frequents the Sacrament of Confession regularly. A burden is lifted when we are willing to repent and attempt to make reparation for our transgressions. God is so good.

A powerful exposition on how to live one's life...thank you.

I was happy to hear Yom Kippur talked about positively. Nearly all of the liturgy of Yom Kippur uses the pronouns "us", "our", and "we." The forgiveness and requests for acceptance of our repentance, the desire for a fresh start, requires that we/I do not request these things for myself/ourselves, but for all of us. The creation of the new Year and of a new Start requires that I not only acknowledge my mistakes, as you and your guest discussed, but also that I remember the mistakes of my neighbor - how they hurt me - and that I forgive her. After all, how can I realistically appreciate the impact of the sequelae to my mistakes if I cannot appreciate the impact that others' mistakes had on me and my loved ones. And, if I acknowledge that they have hurt me, just as I have hurt others, then if I am to get a fresh start, what on Earth or Heaven makes me think that others should not receive a fresh start. The same mistakes and pain that I csused and request forgiveness for are the same mistakes and pain that my neighbor caused and receives forgiveness for. We make all the same mistakes and we make many if not all together. The melting of individuality into the reality of connectedness is one of the profound blessings that the day of Yom Kippur grants us. There are others, as well.

Confession is good for the soul, presumably, and repentance, of a sincere sort, helps one presumably receive redemption. Whether one believes in a Divine Judge, which I do, or if one acts merely to achieve peace of mind, repenting of one's "sins" will (hopefully) bring peace. One can only hope.

"Teshuva" in Judaism is not all about repentance. It is about returning to the home of your soul. Teshuva means "Return." Teshuva is a cleaning of the soul each year. We atone for treating others badly. We examin ways to be more loving and kind (chesed). Teshuva means to return to G-d. Most importantly, we are to return to the person we are meant to be. Our journey on this planet (in this incarnation), is not to have the most money, biggest house, or fancy cars. Our journey is to Tikkun Ha' Nefesh (Healing of the world [Tikkun Olam], by beginning to heal our selves and our soul first). Healing the world at the same time we work on ourselves is because we all are sparks of the divine and we all are connected. We all have immense power to to affect Tikkun. We do this by beginning with ourselves. When we make peace with ourselves, we then can make peace in the whole world. A great place to start is with the idea of cultivating an ethic (middot in Mussar) of sufficiency. Jewish law is to help us maintain an appetite. An appetite of foods, sex, money, and material things. If enough is never enough, our focus is on what we don't have. We return to what we had when we were conceived. We didn't have material things to make us seem rich. We had a spiritual destiny. Out time is precious. To every thing there is a season. We have limits and possibilities. Shabbat is a carving out of time where we have refuge for our souls. A taste of paradise. My challenge is to accept the gifts I have been given (not the material things), rather not being a slave to time. We will have more time for relationships. We will have time for appreciation. Maybe, just maybe we will feel more connected to G-d and all living things. Do it now! Return to the home of your soul.

For Jews, there's repentance and then there's atonement.

It's interesting that for Jews, even after one has repented, there remains the process of atonement. For some sins, the Day of Atonement suffices to achieve atonement. For others death atones. And for yet others, Ghinnom (the Jewish equivalent of Purgatory) atones after death.

And there are sins for which, ultimately, there is no atonement.

Krista highlighted the power words of Kayla Mueller in her letters home and blog not long ago. I have kept these words near and let their poetry come forward for me. They seem poignant here:

really is

my life’s

to be
where suffering is.

I suppose,
like us all,

I’m learning
how to deal

with the suffering
of the world

inside myself...

to deal with my own pain
and most importantly
to still have

the ability
to be

I have come to a place
in experience

where, in every sense of the word,
I have surrendered

myself to our creator
b/c literally there was no one else …

by God
by your prayer

I have felt
tenderly cradled
in freefall.

I have been shown
in darkness,

have learned
even in prison,
one can be free.

I am grateful.
I have come to see
that there is good

in every situation,

we just have to look for it.”

Dr. Newman says, "And we'd rather they didn't know. We'd rather let that remain a secret. And so that's part of, I think, what makes the work of repentance so incredibly arduous — is you have to be willing to live transparently. At least in the context of a small, say, recovery group, or in the context of your most intimate relationships. You have to let people know you fully and to do that is to make yourself extraordinarily vulnerable." When he first ran for President, years ago, Jimmy Carter created a sensation, and hurt his wife, by admitting that he had "lusted in his heart" for other women. But I think he wanted to be transparent--and to be elected President even though he was. (You might say, he had that sort of pride.)

This was an excellent program. I guess I would rather hear the word "mistake" substituted for "sin".

Loved this interview! As a cradle Catholic, it gave me a broader perspective on the meaning of sin and repentance. Question: Dr. Newman referred to an essay on atonement by an Israeli scholar (just over 12 minutes into the program). Would you kindly post the exact name and/or citation for the essay? Thank you.

Just listened to the related unedited podcast :Avivah Zornberg — The Transformation of Pharaoh, Moses, and God. What a lovely and powerful combination!

Thank You!

Beautiful, thoughtful, thorough, scholarly, comforting, challenging. I cannot wait to read the book. Thank you!

Repentence is not so much addressing anything wrong but is more about recognising that some actions or thoughts or habits take us away from where our true self should be

Thank you for this.
I divorced 10 years ago and the loneliness feels wrong (off the mark).
Hurts perpetually - exponentially?
Of course I want to be forgiven and repent.
It's not clear - or something. The remorseful hole in my heart returns.
Thank you for your company in this process.