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Do Jews Have Confession?

Posted on September 17, 2017 by Rabbi Andrea Goldstein

Yes, we do.  Confessional prayers (in Hebrew, vidui) are part of the Jewish process of atonement.  Vidui prayers are traditionally recited each night as part of the bedtime Shema. There is also a deathbed confession and a service of confessional prayers that we say on Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur we recite the vidui prayers all together in the first person plural, meaning that we confess to mistakes that we may not have personally committed.

In one set of notes about these prayers in Mishkan HaNefesh we read:

“Why do we confess to wrongs we have not personally committed? The 16th-century mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria teaches that the people of Israel may be likened to a body of which every Jew is a living part. The vitality of the whole depends upon the health of every organ and limb. That is how deeply we are connected to one another. Therefore, each individual sin inflicts damage on the whole organism, and all of us share responsibility for healing the body of Israel” (Mishkan HaNefesh for Yom Kippur, p. 83).

Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt suggests incorporating some form of a confessional into our daily prayers. She suggests keeping the following prayer (rendered from the Hebrew by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi) on our nightstands and reading it each night before we go to sleep:

Bedtime Prayer of Forgiveness

You, My Eternal Friend,
Witness that I forgive anyone
who hurt or upset me or offended me –
damaging my body, my property,
my reputation or people that I love;
whether by accident or willfully,
carelessly or purposely,
with words, deeds, thought, or attitudes;
in this lifetime or another incarnation –
I forgive every person,
May no one be punished because of me.
Help me, Eternal Friend,
to keep from offending You and others.
Help me to be thoughtful
and not commit outrage,
by doing what is evil in Your eyes.
Whatever sins I have committed,
blot out please, in Your abundant kindness
and spare me suffering or harmful illnesses.
Hear the words of my mouth and
may the meditations of my heart
find acceptance before You, Eternal Friend
Who protects and frees me. Amen.

What might it feel like to grant and ask for forgiveness each night? How might this practice help transform our lives?

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