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September 20, 2012 - Image 60

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-09-20

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arts & entertainment

Good For The Soul

Lawrence A. Hoffman

Jewish Telegraphic Agency


ew prayers are as well known
to Jews as Ashamnu ("We have
sinned ...") and Al Chet ("For
the sin ..:'), the twin confessions of Yom
Belief in human sinfulness is more cen-
tral to Judaism than we think. Sin may
not be "original," as it is in Christianity
— inherited from Adam, that is, as a sort
of genetic endowment ever after. But it is
at least primal: It is there, patent, indel-
ible and unavoidable. We may not be
utterly depraved — the teaching with which
American Protestantism grew up — but we
are indeed sinners.
Talmudic practice, therefore, was to say
a confession every single day, a precedent
that continued into the Middle Ages and still
survives in Sephardi synagogues. Ashkenazi
Jews also announce that sinfulness daily in a
part of the service called Tachanun ("suppli-
cations"), which includes a line from Avinu
Malkeinu, "Our Father, Our King, be gra-
cious and answer us, for we have no deeds."
That translation misses the theologi-
cal point, however. Classical Christianity
believed that we are too sinful to be of any

merit on our own. We depend, therefore,
on God's "grace the love God gives even
though we do not deserve it. Jews, by con-
trast, preach the value of good deeds, the
mitzvot. But Avinu Malkeinu hedges that
At least in Tachanun, and certainly from
Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, we proclaim
"we have no deeds" and rely on God's "gra-
cious" love instead.
Our two Yom Kippur confessions
appeared in "Seder Rav Amram," the first
comprehensive Jewish prayer book (circa
860 C.E.), and became standard thereafter.
But do Jews really believe we are as sinful
as the confessions imply?
Nineteenth-century Jews, recently eman-
cipated from medieval ghettos, doubted it.
For well more than a century, philosophers
had preached the primacy of reason as the
cognitive capacity that makes all human
beings equal. These two influences, political
equality and the fresh air of reason, paved
the way for a century when all things
seemed possible. And indeed, scientific
advances and the Industrial Revolution did
seem to promise an end to human suffering
just around the corner.
It wasn't just Jews who felt that way.
For Europeans in general, the notion of


the history of confession in

Sin and Confession
in Judaism

Judaism, its roots in the Bible,

A/ Chet

Confessing our sins on Yom Kippur
— and remembering to act nobly.

In Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman's
book We Have Sinned, almost


human sin, whether original (for Christians)

or primal (for Jews), lost plausibility. Far
from bemoaning human depravity, it
seemed, religion should celebrate human
nobility. Enlightenment rabbis began paring
away Yom Kippur's heavy accent on sin.
From then until now, new liturgies (usu-
ally Reform and Reconstructionist) have
shortened the confessions, translated them
to lessen their overall impact and created
new ones that addressed more obvious
shortcomings of human society.
But traditionalist liturgies, too, tried to
underscore human promise and explain
away the aspects of the confessions that no
one believed anymore.
Al Chet "is an enumeration of all the sins
and errors known to mankind," said Samson
Raphael Hirsch, the founder of modern
Orthodoxy. It is not as if we, personally, have
done them, but some Jew somewhere has,
and as the Talmud says, "All Israelites are
responsible for one another"
Some would say today that as much as
the 19th century revealed the human capac-
ity for progress, the 20th and 21st centuries
have demonstrated the very opposite.
Perhaps we really are as sinful as the tradi-
tional liturgy says.
Religious "progressives" respond by say-

40 contributors examine

its evolution in rabbinic and

modern thought, and the very
nature of confession for men

and women today.

ing that we suffer only from a failure of
nerve and that more than ever, Yom Kippur
should reaffirm the liberal faith in human
dignity, nobility and virtue. At stake on Yom
Kippur this year is not just one confession
rather than another, but our faith in human-
kind and the kind of world we think we are
still capable of building.
I am not yet ready to throw in the
Enlightenment towel. Back in 1824, Rabbi
Gotthold Salomon of Hamburg gave a ser-
mon in which he said, "All of us feel, to one
extent or other, that, in spirit and soul, we
belong to a higher order than the ephem-.
eral. We feel that we are human in the most
noble sense of the word, that we are closely
connected to the Father of all existence, and
that we could have no higher purpose than
to show ourselves worthy of this relation-
Those words ring true for us today.
We have something to gain from the
Enlightenment's belief that acting for
human betterment is the noble thing to do,
and that acting nobly is still possible.

Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman is the Barbara and

Stephen Friedman professor of liturgy, worship
and ritual at Hebrew Union College Jewish
Institute of Religion in New York.

42 W S

Nate Bloom

Special to the Jewish News

Emmy Time
The 64th Primetime Emmy Awards

airs on ABC at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23.
Here are some Jewish nominees in the
most prominent categories. Jews who
created and/or are main producers of a
Best Show nominee precede the show's
Acting: lead actor,
comedy series:

Larry David, Curb
Your Enthusiasm;

lead actress, com-
edy: Lena Dunham,
Girls; supporting
actor, comedy: Max

Lena Dunham

Greenfield, New Girl;

supporting actress,
comedy: Mayim Bialik,
Big Bang Theory; lead actress, drama
series: Julianna Margulies, The Good
Wife; supporting actress, mini-series/
TV movie: Mare Winningham, Hatfields
& McCoys; guest actress, comedy: Maya
Rudolph, Saturday Night Live, and
Elizabeth Banks, 30 Rock; guest actor,
drama: Mark Margolis, Breaking Bad,
and Ben Feldman, Mad Men; voiceover


September 20 2012

animated: Hank Azaria, The Simpsons.
Directing: comedy series: Lena

Dunham, Girls; Jason Winer, Modern
Family; Steve Levitan, Modern Family;
Jake Kasdan, New Girl, and Robert B.
Weide, Curb Your Enthusiasm; minise-
ries/movie: Jay Roach, Game Change,
and Philip Kaufman, Hemingway &
Gellhorn. Writing: comedy series: Lena
Dunham, Girls; drama series: Howard
Gordon/Gideon Raff, Homeland;
Matthew Weiner/Erin Levy, Mad Men;
miniseries/movie: Danny Strong, Game

Producing: best drama series:

Howard Korder, Boardwalk Empire;
David Benioff/D.B. Weiss, Game
of Thrones; Matthew Weiner, Mad
Men; Howard Gordon/Gideon Raff,
Homeland; best comedy series: Chuck
Lorre/former Detroiter Bill Prady,
Big Bang Theory; Larry David, Curb
Your Enthusiasm; Lena Dunham, Girls;
Steve Levitan, Modern Fan* Lorne
Michaels, 30 Rock, and Frank Rich,
Veep; best miniseries/movie: Brad
Falchuk, American Horror Story; Philip
Kaufman/Barbara Turner, Hemingway
& Gellhorn.
Other notes: Jon Stewart (The Daily
Show) is once again nominated for best

variety series; former Detroiter Joshua
Bergasse (Smash) is nominated for
best choreography; and Michael Tilson
Thomas is nominated for best musical
direction for the PBS documentary The
Tomashefskys, about his grandparents,
Bessie and Boris Thomashefsky, leg-
ends of the Yiddish theater.

New On TV

Debuting 8:30 p.m. Monday, Sept.
24, on CBS is Partners, created by
and based on the lives of Will & Grace
writers-producers David Kohan,
48, and Max Mutchnick, 47. David
Krumholtz, 34, plays Joe, an archi-
tect who, like Kohan, is straight. His
business partner and
best friend, Louis
(Michael Urie), is
gay (like Mutchnick).
Complications ensue
when Joe gets
engaged, and Louis
begins dating a
hunky guy.
Debuting 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Sept. 26,
is the ABC comedy
series The Neighbors, which centers
on Marty (Lenny Venito) and Debbie

Weaver (Jamie Gertz, 46), a nice
couple with two kids who buy a home
in an exclusive development. Amber,
their daughter, is played by Clara
Mamet, 18, the real-life daughter of
playwright David Mamet, 64, and his
wife, actress Rebecca Pidgeon, 46.
Her half-sister is Zosia Mamet, a co-
star of HBO's Girls.
The Weavers find out that all their
neighbors are space aliens who have
been stationed on Earth for 10 years,
disguised as humans, while they
await instructions from their home.
The Weavers are the first humans
the aliens really get to know. The
aliens and the Weavers discover that,
despite their many differences, they
have much in common, like child-rear-
ing problems.
The pilot of the new NBC sitcom
Animal Practice was sneak-previewed
after the Olympics. The official pre-
miere is at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept.
26. Justin Kirk (Weeds), 43, stars as
a top city-based veterinarian who has
a better rapport with animals than he
does with humans. He's surrounded by
a group of comically wacky vets and a
scene-stealing capuchin monkey named
Crystal (Kirk's mother is Jewish).

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