We Have Sinned: Sin and Con­fes­sion in Judaism: Asham­nu and Al Chet

Rab­bi Lawrence A. Hoff­man, ed.
  • Review
By – November 14, 2012

Every year, on Yom Kip­pur, Jews recite Asham­nu and Al Chet at least ten times dur­ing the course of the day’s ser­vices. Why these lists instead of some­thing more per­son­al? Rab­bi Lawrence Hoff­man, a pro­fes­sor of litur­gy at Hebrew Union Col­lege-Jew­ish Insti­tute of Reli­gion in New York, has edit­ed a col­lec­tion of essays by con­trib­u­tors rep­re­sent­ing all Jew­ish denom­i­na­tions exam­in­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of con­fes­sion in Judaism. The authors are men and women, rab­bis and schol­ars, the­olo­gians and poets. They dis­cuss the nature of sin, the impor­tance of com­mu­ni­ty, iden­ti­ty, and the rela­tion­ship of humans to God. The tra­di­tion­al prayers in the orig­i­nal Hebrew appear along with a new anno­tat­ed trans­la­tion that reflects con­tem­po­rary sen­si­bil­i­ties. The essays are thought-pro­vok­ing. They pro­vide new ways of look­ing at this ancient tra­di­tion. For exam­ple, Rab­bi Lawrence Kush­n­er looks at the tra­di­tion of strik­ing the chest while recit­ing these prayers, sug­gest­ing that the ges­ture is a way of awak­en­ing one­self, own­ing one’s short­com­ings, and resolv­ing to change for the bet­ter in the com­ing year. The book includes exten­sive notes on sources, a glos­sary, and appen­dix­es with the per­son­al prayers of the rab­bis (Tal­mud, Berakhot 16b-17a) and con­fes­sions of the rab­bis (Tal­mud, Yoma 87b). This is a won­der­ful resource for study and prepa­ra­tion for Yomim Nori­am.

Bar­bara M. Bibel is a librar­i­an at the Oak­land Pub­lic Library in Oak­land, CA; and at Con­gre­ga­tion Netiv­ot Shalom, Berke­ley, CA.

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