Confession Is Good for the Soul


How it’s New York: There are a lot of American Jews in the Tri-State, enough that many public schools close on the Jewish High Holidays.3680134151_8912a6c9f5
How it’s (Jirish) Irish: Confession is a hallmark of Catholicism.

There’s something truly cleansing about confessing one’s sins. Jews don’t have weekly confession and absolution, nor a deathbed reckoning, exactly. We’ve got it once a year, though, and it begins tonight.

Tonight, Sept. 13, 2013, marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, 5744, with the service known as Kol Nidre. “Kol Nidre” means “All Vows,” and it means all vows we might have made in the past year to G-d are null and void. (Not the other vows. You still have to pay your mortgage.) And we begin chanting a prayer called “Al Het” that we’ll say again tomorrow, listing all of our sins. We thump on our chests when we list each one, which is weirdly satisfying.

“Our” sins is the important point. There’s a long list of them, and we recite them as a congregation. We’re not in a confessional, and we say them all together so nobody knows exactly which ones apply. Hopefully, nobody there has done all of them, and maybe there are a few nobody has done, but odds are everyone has done one or two (people thump harder on those).

I’m guilty of a few. “Wanton glances,” check.  “Idle gossip,” yep. Maybe even “leading others astray.” (Which, define, but probably, check..) One thing that is important is that you can’t be forgiven by G-d for things you’ve done to other people. Only they can forgive you. But we might have done some things without knowing it, so we just read them all aloud and say sorry in a big group, which helps a little.

The idea is to  to get it all off your chest (maybe why thumping helps) and resolve not to do them anymore. That’s the only kind of repentance that matters. It’s a fast day, too, so that the only thing you’re thinking about is repentance and atoning. You’re afflicting the soul. No water. It’s not a health fast and it lasts for 25 hours.  (If you’re sick or shouldn’t fast, of course you don’t.) “Have an easy fast” is a typical Yom Kippur greeting.

After a full day of that, there’s a final service called Ne’ilah, and the Book is closed. That’s the Book of Life where everybody’s fate is inscribed for the next year. Everybody, not just Jews, sheep too (OK, the sheep thing is a metaphor for how we’re like sheep, but nothing says they’re not included).  I like to think of it as a real book, myself.

yomkippurI learned this year while writing an article for The Montclair Times on Rosh Hashanah (New Year’s, which comes 10 days before Yom Kippur; you get 10 days to say sorry to everyone and generally get better) is that the Book isn’t completely, finally closed at that final service. And repentance can actually take place every day and all through the year, even if communal confession doesn’t.

There isn’t any penance or absolution to know we’re forgiven. We just have to keep on repenting and doing better. It’s an opportunity to come out clean.  It’s about forgiveness.

I’ve resolved this year to be less judgmental, less angry, more forgiving, kinder, and to have more love in my heart.

You wouldn’t say “Happy Yom Kippur,” but you would say to have a good one. Wishing that for all my friends, family and readers, and that everyone’s inscribed for a great year.

Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.