A Yom Kippur confession for a corrupt government

by Brian on September 24, 2023

in In the News,Jewish Holidays and Culture,Judicial coup

2023 has been a year where atonement seems as unachievable as it is necessary. As Yom Kippur rolls around again, there’s a sense of weariness in the air. 

Will the opposing sides in Israel’s burgeoning civil war ever be able to bridge their gaps? 

How will we know if a proposed compromise is legitimate and not just a trick to buy influence and time?

Is this the end of the state of Israel – and by extension, the Jewish people – as we know it? Can we survive a constitutional crisis?

There are so many sins of the current government (and some for the opposition, too) that it’s hard to know where to start. But here goes. I’ll use the Yom Kippur vidui (confession) liturgy as a jumping off point. 

This is not the complete list but highlights that evoke the most anger and frustration.

  1. אָשַֽׁמְנוּ. ah-sham-noo – we have trespassed. This is the starting point for our journey towards atonement. We have not listened to each other; we have not been willing to engage in serious compromise.
  2. בָּגַֽדְנוּ. bah-gahd-noo – we have betrayed. For the coalition, acting as if a thin majority gives you carte blanche to turn your back on the anguish permeating the people of this country is not democracy but a tyrannical betrayal of the founding principles and institutions of the state.
  3. גָּזַֽלְנוּ. gah-zahl-noo – we have stolen. This government is attempting to steal our children’s dreams – of living in a democratic state, of modeling decent and moral behavior where ministers don’t routinely run red lights or run over security guards. 
  4. דִּבַּֽרְנוּ דֹּֽפִי. di-bar-nu dofi – we have slandered. Populist ministers have slandered the IDF, calling concerned soldiers traitors, fascists, leftists and worse. Yair Netanyahu has turned X into his personal insult machine.
  5. הֶעֱוִֽינוּ. heh-eh-vee-noo – we have caused others to sin. The fury on the streets is so pronounced that some protesters have had run-ins with the police, who have responded, sometimes brutally
  6. זַֽדְנוּ. zahd-noo – we have sinned with malicious intent. Yariv Levin and Simcha Rothman, architects of the judicial coup, know full-well what they’re doing. Levin even said as much in April – that his judicial appointments bill, had it had been accepted as originally written, would not be compatible with democracy.
  7. חָמַֽסְנוּ. chah-mahss-noo – we have forcibly taken others’ possessions. Here I point my frustrated finger at Israel’s ultra-Orthodox politicians who cynically demand the tax dollars of citizens who work, to pay for those who do not.
  8. טָפַֽלְנוּ שֶֽׁקֶר. tah-fahl-noo sheh-kehr – we have added falsehood upon falsehood. Constantly crying “fake news” whenever you don’t like what the media is reporting is not just a sin, it’s become a lifestyle. 
  9. יָעַֽצְנוּ רָע. ya’atznoo rah – we have given harmful advice. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outright lied to credit rating agency Moody’s when he said no changes to the judiciary would be passed without consensus. U.S. President Joe Biden experienced similar misleading statements. Does anyone believe what this government says anymore?
  10. כִּזַּֽבְנוּ.. kee-zahv-noo– we have deceived. In 2020, Netanyahu promised Benny Gantz that the latter would become prime minister in a rotation deal. It was pure deception from the get-go.
  11. פָּשַֽׁעְנוּ. pah-shah-noo – we have been negligent in our performance of the commandments.Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s defiant refusal to convene the judicial appointments committee, when there are hundreds of empty positions in courts across the country, is practically the definition of negligence in the commandment of doing one’s job. 
  12. צָרַֽרְנוּ. tzah-rahr-noo – we have caused our friends grief. Former friends on both sides of the divide no longer speak with each other. Our loved ones overseas are despondent and not sure what to do with us.
  13. קִשִּֽׁינוּ עֹֽרֶף. kee-shee-noo oh-rehff – we have been stiff-necked, refusing to admit that our suffering is caused by our own sins. Why do we always look to blame others and never take responsibility? The tragic deaths in Meron are one example. Politicians who routinely evade paying their taxes are another. So-called “leaders” who would rather help sex offenders avoid trial or get to Ukraine than concern themselves with the national good are a third.
  14. שִׁחַֽתְנוּ. shee-chaht-noo – we have committed sins which are the result of moral corruption. Racism, homophobia, misogyny and xenophobia all abound in the current coalition.
  15. תָּעִֽינוּ. tah-ee-noo – we have gone astray. If a violent civil war leads to the end of this country, would there be any question that we have gone astray?

Fortunately, there is an alternative, positive vidui, composed by Open Orthodoxy movement founder Rabbi Avi Weiss. Here are seven excerpts that help to counter the ravages of the first list.

  1. אָהַבְנוּ. ah-hav-noo – we have loved and בֵּרַכְנו. be-rach-noo – we have blessed. Is there any better encapsulation of how a government should act towards its people?
  2. גָּדַלְנוּ. ge-dal-noo – we have grown – and לָמַדְנוּ. le-mad-noo – we have learned. Even corrupt governments can change. If there’s no learning, there’s no growth.
  3. דִּבַּרְנוּ יֹפִי. di-bar-nu yofi – we have spoken positively. This is the antidote to slander and insults. 
  4. וְחַסְנוּ. v’chas-noo – we have shown compassion; חָמַלְנוּ. cha-mal-noo – we have been empathetic; and נִחַמְנוּ. ni-cham-noo – we have comforted. So, you want to change the system of government? We may not agree on the best direction, but if you showed a little more compassion and empathy, could that lower the flames?
  5. יָעַצְנוּ טוֹב. ya’atz-noo-tov – we have given good advice. That’s the job of legal advisors, the attorney general, the Supreme Court. We need to strengthen not eviscerate these systems.
  6. טִפַּחְנוּ אֱמֶת. tah-fahl-noo emet – we have cultivated truth. Enough with the fake news! Where’s our local version of Walter Cronkite? 
  7. תִּקַּנּוּ. ti-ka-noo – we have repaired. What do we need to do to fix this broken society? That’s what Yom Kippur is all about. I only hope our political leaders heed the right vidui.

I first shared my thoughts on Yom Kippur 2023 at The Jerusalem Post.

Shofar image by Megs Harrison on Unsplash

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