Sussing Out the Question of Teshuva for Sex Offenders

The best essay on the topic for this time of the year appears in the Washington Post. Danya Ruttenberg says it all and well in today’s article “Famous abusers seek easy forgiveness. Rosh Hashanah teaches us repentance is hard.”

Forgiveness is up to the victim and the victim alone. Atonement is up to God. As such, a conversation about sexual predators attempting to return to the public eye should begin with the question of whether they have made real, earnest tshuvah.

The perfunctory public apologies that we have so often seen in the wake of allegations could, at best, be considered part of the first step toward repentance, taking ownership of the harm done. But they must reflect a genuine ownership of all actions taken — not “if I did behave then as he describes ,” as Spacey said; not complaining about the impact on their work (Keillor), fans (Batali) or family (Lauer), with minimal focus on the victims; not minimizing the complaints as Rose did, blaming Godas O’Reilly did or guessing what the victims might have thought, as C.K.’s initial statement last year did. Issuing such superficial and narcissistic public statements is the only thing that any of the above-named men have done to signal any sort of repentance process, at least publicly.

We would see something like the work of Rabbi Yosef Blau, who, after understanding his complicity in enabling a sexual abuser to continue his work with as both a high school principal and youth group leader, has dedicated much of his life and work to advocating for victims of sexual assault.

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