September 15, 2021

If I caused you pain, I know that I’m to blame.  I must have been insane.  From the bottom of my heart I apologize.  Please let me make amends.

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In the course of the religious services on Yom Kippur (this year on September 16, 2021), the confessions of sins, Al Chet, are uttered ten times. They have wide scope and differing emphases: among them are sins made under duress or willingly, by hardheartedness, inadvertently or with thought and deceit, improper thoughts, evil inclination, false denial and lying, ceaseless hatred, passing judgement, evil talk. The plea of the confessors is pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.

In the U.S. and other countries, issues of repentance and forgiveness have become controversial and troubling problems in this era of BLM and frequent allegations of racism. The many relevant issues have to be seen in the context of a number of factors: the existing prejudice and persecution against certain people or groups in society, the desire to seek a realistic assessment of forgiveness by objective authorities, or in the U.S. specifically by Blacks or the Black community for what is considered racist utterances or behavior.

Consider some of the factors. Differences exist over the possibility of absolving White people of responsibility for the existence of discrimination and prejudice; the degree of change in feeling or sensibility over the years; the willingness to  repair contentious relations; the subsequent behavior of the accused person or group since the alleged offence; the anticipation of future behavior; the attempts at reconciliation; the degree of relief afforded to the alleged wrongdoer.

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At the core may be the desire for vengeance as the primary factor towards people or society which are said to be the cause of harm. In any case, who has the right to decide on principles of justice and who can justifiably have power to forgive others in a meaningful way in an era when ethical and moral expectations may have changed? Moreover, is there a time limit on punishment for offensive actions committed in the past?

To help find proper policies to deal with forgiveness in the U.S. it may be useful to examine a number of attempts abroad to deal with comparable problems.

South Africa on 1995 established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a body to help the country come to terms with its apartheid past on a morally accepted basis, and to advance the cause of reconciliation between the different peoples. By this body, individuals identified as victims of gross human rights violations are invited to give statements about their experiences, as part of the transition of the country to full democracy.  The TRC sometimes grants amnesty to perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations and offers reparation and rehabilitation to victims. The TRC, was replaced by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in 2000. It works through three committees, human rights, reparations, and amnesty. Amnesty has been granted to those who committed abuses during the apartheid period, so long as the crimes were politically motivated, proportionate, and there was full disclosure by the person seeking amnesty.  This emphasis on reconciliation marks a difference from the approach of the Nuremberg trials.