Why Yom Kippur calls us to repent for confusion

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On Yom Kippur, we Jews collectively ask God for forgiveness in a prayer that takes its name from the beginning of each of dozens of lines: Al cheit (“For the sin…”). The litany of sins is as comprehensive as can be imagined, from gossip and wanton looks to bribery and embezzlement to the criminal acts that merited the death penalty in biblical times.

On this Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown tonight, I’m hoping the leadership of the American Jewish community will pay attention to one line in particular: “Al cheit shechatanu lefanekha betimhon levav,” which is best translated as, “For the sin that we have committed before you through confusion of heart and mind.” (Levav is Hebrew for heart, but in traditional Jewish culture the heart was considered the seat of reason as well as emotion.)

So how is confusion of heart and mind a sin? I give you…the leadership’s response to the P5+1 Iran nuclear deal, about which the most charitable thing that can be said is that their emotions got the better of their reason.

After the deal was reached in July, AIPAC launched an unprecedented $20 million advertising campaign to defeat it via a new 501 (c) 4 called Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, stated that the deal was opposed by an “overwhelming” majority of his organization’s organizations. In due course, the ADL, the American Jewish Committee, and the American Jewish Congress (among others) declared their opposition.

To be sure, not all major organizations jumped on the bandwagon. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which is supposed to represent the organized Jewish community on policy issues, took no position. J Street, the dovish pro-Israel group close to the Obama Administration, put a couple of million towards pro-deal ads. But the contrast between a Jewish leadership overwhelmingly opposed to the deal and a Jewish citizenry that favored it was stunning.

Perhaps it was reasonable to believe that a sufficient number of votes could be rounded up at least to overcome a Democratic filibuster of legislation blocking the deal in the Senate if not to overturn a presidential veto. But to what end? The claim that this would somehow force Iran to negotiate an acceptable deal was nothing more than wishful thinking.

How would it have enhanced Israel’s security to embarrass the Obama Administration while our negotiating partners ended their respective boycotts? How did it enhance Israel’s security to keep up the struggle after it became clear that the votes weren’t there?

And now, with the deal done, what does the leadership have to show for the fight? Lost resources, a weakened image as a force to be reckoned with, and a divided Jewish community more alienated than ever from the organizations that claim to represent it. Is this something to atone for? You bet it is.

  • Garson Abuita

    Let’s also remember on this issue: “Al cheit shechatanu lefanekha besinat chinam” — the senseless hatred that flew back and forth through too many parts of the Jewish community concerning the Iran deal. Hopefully, through this season of renewal and repentance, we can put it behind us.

  • Sidney Vineburg

    My goodness! Isn’t Mark Silk full of his own self-righteousness! Calling on those of us who oppose the badly negotiated Iran deal to do teshuva for daring to disagree with his assessment of the deal. And then to hold up J Street, an organization that has yet to say anything good about Israel, as a model of a “good” Jewish organization. As the migrants leave Syria because Iran props up the Assad regime, and as new and better missiles fall from Gaza, bought by Iranian deal funds, I hope you can still be so sure of yourself. Gamar HaTimah Tova.

    Rabbi Dr. Sidney Vineburg