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Repentance

Repentance is a prerequisite for divine forgiveness: God will not pardon man unconditionally but waits for him to repent. In repentance man must experience genuine remorse for the wrong he has committed and then convert his penitential energy into concrete acts. Two substages are discernible in the latter process: first, the negative one of ceasing to do evil (Isa. 33:15; Ps. 15; 24:4), and second, the positive step of doing good (Isa. 1:17; 58:5ff.; Jer. 7:3; 26:13; Amos 5:14–15; Ps. 34:15–16; 37:27). The Bible is rich in idioms describing man's active role in the process of repentance e.g., "incline the heart to the Lord" (Josh. 24:23), "make oneself a new heart" (Ezek. 18:31), "circumcise the heart" (Jer. 4:4), "wash the heart" (Jer. 4:14), and "break one's fallow ground" (Hos. 10:12). However, all these expressions of man's penitential activity are subsumed and summarized by one verb which dominates the Bible, שוב (shwb, "to return") which develops ultimately into the rabbinic concept of teshuvah, repentance. This root combines in itself both requisites of repentance: to turn from the evil and to turn to the good. The motion of turning implies that sin is not an ineradicable stain but a straying from the right path, and that by the effort of turning, a power God has given to all men, the sinner can redirect his destiny. That this concept of turning back (to YHWH) is not a prophetic innovation but goes back to Israel's ancient traditions is clear from Amos, who uses it without bothering to explain its meaning (Amos 4:6–11). Neither he nor Isaiah stresses repentance, except in his earliest prophecy (1:16–18 – to which the prophet adds 19–20 by way of interpretation – and 27), not because they believe it is insignificant, but because in their time the people had sinned to such an extent, that they had overstepped the limits of divine forbearance and the gates of repentance were closed (Amos 7; Isa. 6). For Isaiah, the need to turn back indeed continues to play a role, but only for the few who will survive God's purge. This surviving remnant will itself actively engage in a program of repentence to qualify for residence in the New Zion (e.g., Isa. 10:20–23; 17:7–8; 27:9; 29:18ff.; 30:18–26; 31:6–7; 32:1–8, 15ff.; 33:5–6). Indeed, the name of this prophet's firstborn was imprinted with this message: "[Only] a remnant will return" (Shear-Jashub; Isa. 7:3).

In the teaching of both Hosea and Jeremiah, on the other hand, the call to turn back is never abandoned. When Jeremiah despairs of man's capability of self-renewal, he postulates that God will provide a "new heart" that will overcome sin and merit eternal forgiveness (31:32–33; 32:39–40; cf. Deut. 30:6; Ezek. 36:26–27).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

C.R. Smith, The Biblical Doctrine of Sin (1953); E.F. Sutcliffe, Providence and Suffering in the Old and New Testaments (1955); W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, 2 (1967), 380–495; J. Milgrom, in: VT, 14 (1964), 169–72. RABBINIC VIEWS: S. Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909), 293–343; G.F. Moore, Judaism (1958), 507–552; A. Buechler, Studies in Sin and Atonement (1928); A. Cohen, Everyman's Talmud (1949), 104–10; E.E. Urbach, Ḥazal (1970), 408–15; C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, Rabbinic Authority (1938), 315–33. JEWISH PHILOSOPHY: C. Nussbaum, The Essence of Teshuvah: a Path to Repentance, (1993); C.G. Montefiore, in: JQR, 16 (1904), 209–57; A. Rubin, in: JJSO, 16 (1965), 161–76; J.J. Petuchowski, in: Judaism, 17 (1968), 175–85; S.H. Bergman, Faith and Reason (1961), 55–141; M. Buber, I and Thou (19582); A.I. Kook, Orot ha-Teshuvah (19705; Eng. tr. Rabbi Kook's Philosophy of Repentance, 1968); N.N. Glatzer (ed.), Franz Rosenzweig: His Life and Thought (1953, 19612); idem (ed.), On Jewish Learning (1955); F. Rosenzweig, Star of Redemption (1971), N. Rotenstreich, Jewish Philosophy in Modern Times (1968), 175–238; S. Schwarzschild, Franz Rosenzweig: Guide of Reversioners (1960).