BROOKE GLADSTONE: Miller talks wistfully about a 12-step program but, in fact, there exists a six-step program of sorts for those seeking to redeem themselves. That’s news we all can use but first you need to distinguish between repentance, atonement and forgiveness.
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: Repentance is the work that the person who has done harm needs to do.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg.
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: Forgiveness is what the victim can offer to the perpetrator but they’re not obligated to. And even if the perpetrator does repent and apologize, there's a more complicated story about whether or not the victim can, should forgive the perpetrator. Atonement is any which way between the individual and the divine. Other third-party people are not factors in this transaction. The perpetrator and the victim and God are the only three people in this space.
What I'm interested in personally when we talk about these perpetrators is whether they've done the work of repentance, what does that look like and, even if they have, what are our obligations to that person?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jews seeking to atone for the year’s mistakes endeavor to do it between Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which was last Wednesday. Recently, Rabbi Ruttenberg wrote in the Washington Post about the six steps to repentance that I mentioned before, devised by the Talmudic scholar and philosopher Maimonides in the 12th century. Hockenberry and Ghomeshi appear to have fulfilled step one in their path to repentance, a public apology. But an apology isn’t really an apology, says Rabbi Ruttenberg, without a genuine admission of guilt.
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: Taking full responsibility for what they've done. And we can look at a lot of the public statements of one of these perpetrators and they don’t even make it to step one, really.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Step two, see if there’s something you can do.
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: Right, if you stepped on someone’s foot before you rush to say sorry maybe find out if they need any help. It’s about amends, it’s about reparation. It might look like volunteering for a cause or becoming an advocate. There are things that we can do to try to help heal what we’ve taken part in breaking.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Step three, you have to put in the time and the personal work. You mean like therapy?
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: Well, it can look like a lot of different things. How it looks in 11th and 12th century Egypt may be a little bit different than how it looks in 2018.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How did it look in 11th and 12th century Egypt?
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: You need to change your name, you need to distance yourself from the sin, you need to cry out in prayer. But these days, therapy is a wonderful tool, understanding why we've done what we've done, what are the places of pain that are causing us to do these things, why we’re resisting facing up to them?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Harvey Weinstein went to therapy.
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: Well, that’s nice. I haven't seen him actually own the harm he’s done.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: If it’s about engaging in the transformation, you have to be willing to commit to an ultimately very deep internal process.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And that brings us to step four, which is accepting the consequences of your action.
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: Correct. What we’re not seeing is the behavior of somebody who really understands their impact and takes that seriously.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Step five, a really good apology.
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: I think a lot of times in this cultural discussion around #MeToo there’s a little of this tone of, like, what, I apologized! It needs to come from a place of seeing the other person, seeing their pain and understanding that you have been the one who caused them pain.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What would Maimonides say about public statements by Kevin Spacey or Matt Lauer or Garrison Keillor?
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: Maimonides could be a little cranky. I imagine that he would not be terribly impressed. Maimonides actually says that if you say that you're going to repent, while fully intending not to do the work and [LAUGHS] fully intending to not actually change yourself in any meaningful way, you are as though you have immersed in a ritual bath with a lizard –-
-- which is not a kosher thing to do.
The final step of the repentance process, according to Maimonides, is that you come to the place where you have the opportunity to do the same harmful thing again and you make a different choice.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So as these apologies roll out –
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: Mm-hmm.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- people often take a side. Forgive him, he’s paid his dues or he'll never earn back my respect.
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: Mm-hmm.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What do classical Jewish texts say about the public’s role?
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: The perpetrator knows that they have done real repentance. The victim has the choice about whether or not they want to forgive that person. And the literature says if, if your victim doesn't accept your apology right away, you [LAUGHS] have to apologize at least two more times. But we, the general public, are not here to adjudicate these cases. We don't owe these men fame. We don’t owe these men fortune. We can choose to be generous and decide that we are willing to hear what they have to say, in this case, but we don't owe them anything.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Could you make the broader case? Why is a good thorough attempt at repentance, you know, a real apology, important on a societal level?
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: That's the only way we’re going to start to start to heal some of the broken places in our culture. When we talk about rape culture, well, that's never going to change if we don't give the impact of it a real reckoning. We talk about the work of repentance that America has never done around Native American genocide, around slavery, the ways that Germany actually has done real repentance work for the Holocaust. The local communal courts in Rwanda invited people who had been part of perpetrating genocide to look directly at the families of those they had murdered and it gave them an opportunity to ask for forgiveness and that has done a tremendous amount to heal Rwandan society.
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Doing the work of repentance and repair creates more whole individuals and a more whole society.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Danya, thank you very much.
RABBI DANYA RUTTENBERG: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg is Rabbi-in-Residence at Avodah and author of Nurture the Wow: Finding Spirituality in the Frustration, Boredom, Tears, Poop, Desperation, Wonder and Radical Amazement of Parenting.
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, McDonald's workers, who are definitely not lovin’ it, staged a 10-city strike to protest sexual harassment.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media.