Skip to main content

Full text of "Rabbinic Conceptions of Repentance"

See other formats


Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world byJSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 

Read more about Early Journal Content at 
journal-content . 

JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 





When the invitation reached me to become the President 
of this Society for the current year, my first impulse was 
to decline. I knew that both capacity and circumstance 
made me unqualified for the post. If second thoughts 
prompted acceptance, the reason was this: in no other 
country of Europe would it be even conceivable that the 
presidency of a theological society would be offered to 
a Jew, I was too proud of my country to refuse your 
invitation, and it seemed to me better that those present 
this afternoon should suffer for an hour than that a 
toleration and a liberality, which only England is willing to 
render, should not be put on record and carried into effect. 

The subject on which I propose to speak to you has 
a permanent human interest, and is not of a recondite 
character. Some of the material, at any rate, which I have 
collected from the Rabbinical literature about Repentance 
may be unfamiliar to you. The manner of its present- 
ment will therefore be of less importance. 

' Presidential Address before the Society of Historical Theology. 
Oxford, October 29, 1903. 



May I start in an egotistic and unscientific sort of way 
by a personal reminiscence ? Only three or four genera- 
tions separate the present speaker from what was in 
all probability a mediaeval and Rabbinical environment. 
May he then recall the teaching of his own childhood on 
the subject of repentance, and afterwards let it be seen 
how far this teaching was separated from, and how far it 
faithfully echoed, the teaching of the Talmudic Rabbis ? 

What I was taught about God and sin and repentance 
was exceedingly simple and easy. Perhaps it was too 
simple and too easy ; but our business hei'e is to state facts 
and not to assess their truth. 

I was taught that I could be good if I chose : all sin was 
my own fault. If, however, I tried to be good, God would 
help my efforts. God was represented to me as just and 
loving, but his graciousness and pity were more dwelt 
upon than his justice. Though all wrongdoing is our 
own fault, no man is sinless, and God knows the weakness 
of human nature and is lenient accordingly. After death 
we shall doubtless receive some punishment for our sins, 
but such punishment will be for our purification and 
good, God punishes only as a kind human father punishes. 
There is no such thing as eternal punishment even for the 
worst sinner. And though we all sin, we can all repent, 
and God is ever ready to accept our repentance. As an 
earnest of his goodness, he has given us the great Day 
of Atonement to help us to repent and to assure us of his 
goodness and mercy. Our repentance aiid his goodness 
may rightly give us cheering confidence and buoyant hope. 

Such was the teaching with which I was familiar. You 
historians will smile when I tell you that it was presented 
to me as the teaching of Moses. It was also said to apply 
to all men, whether Jew or Gentile, because theological 
belief was indifferent to God, who only looked to conduct 
and character. 

Thus when we were told or when we read — perhaps sur- 
reptitiously — that some people believed that the world 


was under wrath, that many persons were doomed to 
eternal perdition, and that it was hard to be saved, it all 
seemed exceedingly odd and even absurd. For everybody 
will be " saved," and if you are anxious to be good, and if 
you repent of your faults, what can you want more, or 
why should you be anxious and depressed ? 

This was Jewish teaching in the last quarter of the 
nineteenth century after Christ. How far was it Rabbinic 
teaching 1 We shall find the answer to that question as 
we proceed. 

The Rabbinic doctrine of Repentance is naturally based 
upon the Old Testament. Upon the varying conceptions 
of God and of his relation to man found in the Hebrew 
Bible the unsystematic and inconsistent religion of the 
Rabbis was reared. What we roughly call the Priestly and 
the Prophetic elements of the Old Testament both reappear 
in the Talmudic religion in a more or less successful 

Repentance in the Old Testament is essentially a religious 
conception, and is constantly and closely connected with 
eschatological ideas of the Judgment and of the Messianic 
Age. To a considerable extent it preserves this character 
in the Rabbinical literature. It may be well to state here 
that I shall make no reference to any passages or theories 
concerning repentance which may be gathered from the 
apocryphal, apocalyptic, or pseud-epigraphic writings. These 
sources are now easily accessible and fairly well known. 
It is, however, very notieeable, first, that nothing of 
great importance about repentance can be obtained from 
this quarter. The total amount of material is very small, 
and its quality on the whole is poor. Secondly, whereas 
the mixture of Hellenism with Judaism sometimes improved 
and spiritualized a given doctrine or created interesting 
novelties and developments, the reverse is the case with 
the subject of repentance. Sirach is better on repentance 
than the Wisdom of Solomon. The whole doctrine is 
genuinely and purely Hebraic, and Hellenism does not 

p 2 


improve it. On the contrary, it tends to dry it up. Philo 
has little to say about repentance, and what he does say is 
of small account. In the New Testament the doctrine of 
Repentance is of importance in the Synoptics and in Acts, 
it is hardly touched upon in the epistles of St. Paul, and is 
wholly absent from the Fourth Gospel. Repentance is an 
emphatically Hebraic conception, and its full development 
is a genuine and specific excellence of Rabbinical and post- 
Rabbinical Judaism ^. 

There is no Hebrew noun in the Bible which exactly 
corresponds to our noun " repentance " 2. The verb om 
seems to mean "to be sorry, to feel pain or regret," and 
thus closely corresponds to the root-meaning of our word 
" repentance." It is, however, mainly used in reference to 
God. Of human regret, or repentance, it only occurs some 
six or seven times ^. It does not appear to have acquired 
the particular connotation which was wanted. The root 
which was ultimately adopted, and of which only the verb is 
used in this sense in the Old Testament, had at once a more 
distinctly religious and also a more definitely practical 
significance. This verb is ahuh, which we usually translate 
by " turn " or " return." It never quite obtained a technical 
meaning. It is used either of turning from evil or of 

' Cf. a striking note of F. Delitzsch in his Hebrew translation of the 
Epistle to the Komans. He alludes to a passage in the Pesikta Kahana, 
163b (which I shall subsequently quote) and says it is one, "wo der 
Unterschied der judischen und christlichen Anschauung in die Augen 
springt. Nach jener ISsst sich Gott versOhnen durch Busse, nach dieser 
ist er versOhnt durch das Mittlerwerk Christi, und wird dem Einzelnen 
versOhnt, wenn dieser bussfertig und glaubig sich auf das der ganzen 
Menschheit geltende Mittlerwerk griindet. Die neutestamentliche Heils- 
ordnung Gottes lautet auch wie jer. Maccoth ii. 6 -f) nD3n>l niTOn niDl>, aber 
die Busse ist nicht das Siihnende selbst, sondern uur der Weg zur 
Vers6hnung." {Paulus des Apostels Britf an die RSmer . , . in das Hebrdische 
Hbersetzt von Fram Delitzsch, 1870, p. 81.) 

' Dnj in Hosea xiii. 14 is doubtful. If the text is correct, it means 
rather "pity " than •' repentance." 

' See Exod. xiii. 17; Num. xxiii. 19; Judges xxi. 6; i Sam. xv. 29; 
Job xliL 6 ; Jer. viii. 6, xxxi. 19. 


turning to God. Its untechnical character is shown by the 
fact that it is also occasionally used to signify a turning 
away from God and rectitude. The noun I'eshubah, which 
in the Talmudical literature is even more distinctly a precise 
theological term than repentance with us, is. in the Old 
Testament only found in a non-religious sense. At what 
period Teshubah was fiist used to mean repentance, or at 
any rate " a turning away from sin and a turning towards 
God," cannot be exactly ascertained. I believe that, so far, 
the word has not been found in the Hebrew original of 
Sirach. We are therefore unable to trace it back beyond 
the Mishnah and the Eighteen Benedictions. But the best 
scholars are more and more coming to believe that a con- 
siderable number of these Benedictions are pre-Christian, 
and reach back to the Maccabaean era. In that case a 
famous and familiar prayer would be the earliest use of 
the word Teshubah in its new meaning of repentance which 
we are able to adduce. Let me quote this prayer at once, 
for so much of the Rabbinic doctrine of Repentance is 
contained in it : " Cause us to return, our Father, unto 
thy Law ; draw us near, O our King, unto thy service, and 
bring us back in perfect repentance unto thy presence. 
Blessed art thou, O Lord, who delightest in repentance." 

The opening phrase " Cause us to return " is Biblical. 
For the verb shub is used not merely in the active, but 
also in the causative sense, and this usage is of great 
importance. Few sentences from Scripture are more familiar 
to Jewish ears than the verse in Lamentations : " Turn thou 
us unto thee, Lord, and we shall be turned ; renew our 
days as of old." 

It may be noted that shub, though more frequently 
connected with Israel and the community, is also applied 
to individuals. It is constantly followed by the ideas of 
pardon and restoration, or the annulment of intended 
punishment. It is a prophetic word, and rather religious 
than ethical. Apostasy from God can be healed by shub. 
Amos already employs the term, and the latest prophets 


do not neglect it. It is congenial to the prophetic element in 
the book of Deuteronomy and to writers of the Deuteronomic 
school. Some of its instances acquired an intenser meaning, 
and are used again and again as texts by the Rabbinical 
fathers. Thus, to mention but two or three, we have the 
appeal of Hosea, " O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God ; 
take with you words, and turn to the Lord," quoted, 
played upon, and developed an innumerable number of 
times. The same may be said of the summons " Return thou 
backsliding Israel" in Jeremiah, or of Ezekiel's chapter 
about the wicked man who turns from his evil way and is 
forgiven. The divine readiness to receive the penitent, of 
which we shall hear so much, is often illustrated by 
Zechariah and Malachi's exhortation, "Return unto me, 
and I will return unto you, saith the Lord." And where 
shuh is used in quite a different signification and does 
not mean repentance at all, the Rabbis often interpret it 
in the familiar sense, with results which are sometimes 
almost amusing in their strange and strained ingenuity. 

Thus, so far as the Old Testament is concerned, there 
is a good deal of basis for that theory of repentance which 
I mentioned as having been taught to Jewish children at 
the present time. But this prophetic doctrine is crossed by 
the priestly and sacrificial ideas of atonement, purification, 
and forgiveness, which also obtained an enormous hold 
upon the minds and hearts of the Jewish people. The 
mixture produced by the two different strains of teaching 
was never wholly brought into harmony by the Rabbis, 
though the prophetic element is largely predominant, and 
gives ethical colour and tone to the priestly conceptions. 
But theoretic consistency was never achieved. 

The priestly ideas to which I refer centre in the insti- 
tutions of the sin-offering and of the Day of Atonement. 
Of these the sin-offering became of diminishing import- 
ance. Even before the destruction of the Temple, it is 
clear that the ethical substitutes for the sin-offering, 
which afterwards became all-prevailing, had begun their 


beneficial influence. A large number of persons were 
unable to come up to Jerusalem to offer the statutory 
sacrifi.ces. Moreover, even in the Pentateuch itself, the 
sin-offering and the guilt-offering are usually associated 
with involuntary offences; they are not supposed to be 
applicable or efiicacious in the case of serious moral 
transgressions deliberately committed. Nevertheless, traces 
occur in the Rabbinical literature of a less ethical 
conception of the sacrificial system. Thus we find it 
stated several times that no man in Jerusalem was 
burdened, or passed the night, with a consciousness of 
sin. For the morning sacrifice atoned for the sins of the 
night and the evening sacrifice for those of the day^ 
Or, again, it is said, " As a man goes down to the brook 
dirty and comes up clean, so a man went up to the 
sanctuary with sins and cJime forth without them ^." But 
on the whole the exaltation of the sacrifices is used rather 
to emphasize the necessity for their ethical substitutes — 
prayer, charity, and repentance — now that the possibility of 
sacrifices had passed away. For he who truly repents 
" is regarded by God as if he had gone to Jerusalem, rebuilt 
the altar and offered all the sacrifices of the law^." It 
became a definite doctrine of the Rabbis that the substitutes 
for sacrifice are more potent than sacrifice *. 

Far more important, however, than all other sacrifices, 
whether of the individual or of the community, were 
the ordinances of the Day of Atonement. Moreover, the 
Day of Atonement, though in the Pentateuchal legislation 
its essence and efficacy consisted in rites and sacrifices, 
which ceased when the Temple was destroyed, maintained 
and even increased its significance and solemnity after 
the sacrifices and the rites had disappeared. The per- 
sistence of the Day of Atonement's atoning efficacy 

'■ Bemidbar Rabba, Par. xxi. § 21 (ed. Wilna). Pesikta Kahana, 55 b, 
61 b (ed. Buber). 

' Midrash Tehillim on Ps. v. § i. * Yayikra Rabba, vii. § a, &o. 

' Bemidbar Rabba, xiii. § 18. 


independently of the Temple produced momentous effects 
in the Jewish religion, and was operative both for good and 
for evil. 

It is impossible and needless to enter here upon a 
discussion of the objects and limitations of the Day of 
Atonement ordinance as laid down in the sixteenth chapter 
of Leviticus. We must, however, note first that the 
atoning power of the Day seems to reside in the rites 
performed b}' the priest, including the sacrifices and the 
scapegoat ; and secondly that, in spite of certain qualifying 
implications elsewhere, the atonement was apparently 
efficacious for every kind of transgression. The words 
are, " on that day shall he make an atonement for you 
to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins 
before the Lord." Yet clearly, before the Temple was 
destroyed, a double process had set in. In the first place, 
the Day itself with its fasting and confession had acquired a 
solemn significance and value over and above the sacrifices 
and the scapegoat and the blood. Secondly, the Day 
became spiritualized. A deeper view of sin and of repent- 
ance grew up, a nobler conception of forgiveness and 
atonement. The local synagogues in every village and 
town aided both these developments. Hence the Day of 
Atonement survived the fall of the Temple, and its holy 
importance was even increased by that tragic event. On 
the one hand, it afforded room for a certain growth of 
superstition and formalism ; on the other hand, it supplied 
opportunity for lofty thoughts and high endeavour. Some- 
times the two strains or tendencies are oddly fused 
together. Fasting and prayer, repentance and " good 
works," rituaL'sm independent of sacrifice and high 
doctrine transcending it, enabled the people and their 
teachers to overcome the shock of the Temple's loss, 
and to fashion a religion far superior to that of the 
piiests K 

* Cp. throughout the informing and interesting articles on Atonement 
and the Day of Atonement in the Jewish Encyclopaedia. 


Yet Judaism could hardly have survived the days of 
Titus and of Hadrian had it not been that by that time the 
doctrine of a future life was ingrained into the hearts of 
all. As Gunkel has well said, that dogma marks an epoch 
and a dividing line. On the one side is the Judaism which 
precedes it, on the other the Judaism which comes after. 
The famous story of the son who at the request of his 
father climbs a tree, fetches the eggs, and lets the parent 
bird go free — thereby fulfilling two Pentateuehal commands 
by a single act — and who then falls down and is killed, 
shows the measure of the change. For, according to the 
story, the promise of the fifth commandment was not made 
void by the son's fall, but, on the contrary, was confirmed. 
For the promise of " length of days " was realized in the 
life to come \ Our own immediate subject is also changed, 
like all other religious conceptions, by the doctrine of the 
resurrection. For repentance becomes not only connected 
with the redemption of Israel in the Messianic age, but 
also with the lot of each individual Israelite at the last 
judgment, and in the world to come. The solemnity 
of life, and the tremendous issues with which right and 
wrong are charged, were vastly increased. 

According to a familiar passage in the Mishnah, further 
elaborated in the Talmud, the world receives its yearly 
judgment in the penitential season between New Year and 
the Day of Atonement. I cannot go into the origin or 
even the details of this curious conception. It is sufficient 
to notice that this strange idea undoubtedly exercised 
a very considerable influence upon religion and upon 
action. The Talmud states that three books are opened 
on New Year's day: the righteous are inscribed for life, 
the wicked for death, while the " intermediate " remain in 
suspense till the Day of Atonement. By good works and 
repentance they can make the swaying balance incline in 
their favour. Moreover, even the wicked — this seems the 
general idea — can cause the inscribed decree to be cancelled. 
* Eaddusbin, 39 b. 


Such is the power of repentance ^. These odd conceptions 
had eifects for good and evil. They produced a certain 
amount of formal charity, and of "good works " in the bad 
sense of the word, in the interval between New Year and 
the Day of Atonement. They produced some mere outward 
repentance and formalism, both then and upon the Day of 
Atonement itself. The notion that God was especially 
near to man, anxious and eager to pardon during the 
penitential season, was not entirely healthy. But, on the 
other hand, as repentance meant reparation and change of 
life, it is certain that many a quarrel was made up, 
many an injury made good, many a sin abandoned, many 
a good action accomplished. A real and lasting reforma- 
tion of character was sometimes initiated, together with 
a deepening of the desire of the soul for closer communion 
with God. 

The same double result was and still is the consequence 
of the Day of Atonement. For our present purpose we must 
note that the prevailing view, even when the juridical effect 
of the Day of Atonement is under discussion, is that while 
for some sins repentance is inadequate to secure immediate 
forgiveness, there is no sin for which the Day of Atone- 
ment without repentance can achieve the divine pardon. 
The famous Mishnah in Yoma (viii. 8) runs as follows : 
" Death and the Day of Atonement atone together with 
repentance ; repentance atones for light sins, whether of 
omission or commission ; for heavy sins repentance holds 
the matter in suspense, till the Day of Atonement comes 
and atones ^." Here there is no atonement without repent- 
ance, but the Day of Atonement is required to complete 
the efficacy of the repentance. In another passage, how- 
ever (Mishnah Shebuoth, i. 6), the scapegoat is stated to 
atone for all sins, and no mention is made of repentance. 
The words are " Other sins mentioned in the Law [besides the 

' Cf. e.g. Rosh Ha-Shanah, 17 b; Yebamoth, 105 a; Pesikta Kahana, 
163 a. 
■' Cf. Yoma, 85 b. 


pollution of the sanctuary], whether light or grave, volun- 
tary or involuntary, .... are atoned for by the scapegoat." 
But this Mishnah, though supported by R. Jehudah the 
Prince, is contradicted by a subsequent R. Jehudah, and 
other authorities are also quoted to the effect that the 
atoning efficacy of the scapegoat only applies to those 
who have repented of their sins \ In the Jerusalem 
Talmud another suggestion is made, namely, that the 
Day of Atonement brings pardon even without repent- 
ance for sins of omission, whereas for sins of commission 
(always regarded as more serious by the Talmudists) repent- 
ance is an indispensable condition ^. Rabbi Ishmael taught 
that there were four classes of atonement, and repentance 
was necessary for them all. " If a man transgress a 
negative commandment, and repent, he is forgiven at once ; 
if he transgress a positive commandment, and repent, 
repentance holds the matter in suspense, till the Day of 
Atonement comes and atones. If he sin in matters in- 
volving the penalty of being ' cut off from his people,' or 
death at the hand of the Synhedrin, repentance and the 
Day of Atonement hold the matter in suspense, and suffer- 
ings complete the atonement. But if he has profaned the 
divine name, repentance cannot hold the matter in sus- 
pense, the Day of Atonement cannot atone, and sufferings 
cannot complete the atonement, but they all together can 
(only) hold the matter in suspense, and death completes 
the atonement^." Maimonides, in his codification of the 

* Shebuoth, 12 b-13 b. Of. also Commentaries on Mishnah Shebuoth, 
i. 6(I.A.). 

^ Jer. Yoma, viil. 6 (Schwab, V, p. 255). 

' Yoma, 86 a ; Aboth d. R. Nathan, c. 29. The same passage occurs 
with slight variants in Mechilta on Exod. xx. 7, p. 39 a (ed. Friedmann) 
and also in the Tossefta to Yoma, xi. Further discussion upon the 
precise power of repentance to effect by itself expiation and forgiveness 
is found in Yoma, 85 b fin. and 86 a init. As negative commands are more 
important than positive commands (i. e. sins of commission are worse 
than sins of omission), it is asked : "Why does the Mishnah say that 
Repentance atones both for light sins of commission and omission 1 for if it 
atones for sins of commission, a fortiori it atones for sins of omission. 


Talmudic Law, saye that the scapegoat, without repentance, 
atoned only for slight transgressions ; but I have not 
found a similar formula in the Talmuds ^. In any case 
Maimonides makes a shai"p distinction between the scape- 
goat and the Day of Atonement itself, and he proceeds 
to observe that, since the destraction of the Temple, " There 
is nothing left us but repentance, which, however, atones 
for all transgressions." And undoubtedly this is the pre- 
vailing Rabbinic view. Without repentance, no rites and 
no Day of Atonement can atone ; with repentance, no sin 
can separate between man and God ^. 

It may be desirable to quote a few passages in order to 
show the combination of lower and higher thought which 
sometimes occurs as regards the penitential season and 
the Day of Atonement. It may more accurately be said 
that these passages show, not so much a fusion or combina- 
tion of higher and lower thought, as a desire to adjust the 
purer conceptions of repentance to the letter of the Priestly 
Law. For the Talmudists oscillated, as it were, uncon- 
sciously between two opposing docti'ines. On the one 
hand, repentance and goodness are superior to sacrifice, 
and therefore the existing means of atonement are superior 
to the old sacrificial system ; on the other hand, the sacrificial 
system, like every other part of the Law, is perfect and 
divine, its loss a punishment and a deprivation, its return 
certain and desirable. 

R. Jehudah then suggests that the sins of commission meant are not 
such sins of commission as consist in the transgression of a negative 
command pur et simple, but only those sins of commission which consist 
in the transgression of such negative commands as depend upon a positive 
command (I suppose e. g. that the transgression of Exodus xxxv. 3 would 
be a sin of commission consisting in the transgression of a negative 
command depending upon the positive command of Exodus xx, 8). 

^ It may be, as suggested by a commentator (D"\cn p''?j) on the last 
words of Jer. Yoma, vili. 6, that Maimonides derived his view from that 
passage, which is indeed somewhat corrupt in the editions (I. A.). 

* Cp.Tossefta Yoma, iv. 10 : " Sin-offering and guilt-offering and death 
and the Day of Atonement do not expiate without repentance," though 
B. Jehudah argues that the day of death is equivalent to repentance. 


Thus, for instance, the famous words "Seek the Lord 
while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near " 
were interpreted to mean, " Seek him specially between New 
Year and the Day of Atonement when he dwells among 
you." During that short season the inscribed decree, not 
yet sealed till the Kippur day, was still susceptible of 
revocation and annulment. But these reflections are modified 
by others. It is asserted that to a community God is near 
at all times, and in other passages the whole conception of 
finality at the Day of Atonement is practically abandoned '. 
More than once we meet with the following : " On the eve 
of the New Year the great (? pious) ones of a given genera- 
tion fast, and God remits them a third of their sins ; from 
New Year to Atonement individuals fast, and God remits 
them a third of their sins ; on the Atonement Day all fast, 
and God says : What is done is done ; from this time a new 
reckoning begins '■^." Elsewhere, too, the seeming importance 
of fasting is insisted on. Thus we read " When the Temple 
existed, a man brought a sacrifice, and it made atonement 
for him ; now that the Temple is no more our soul is raised 
to thee in fasting, and thou reckonest the affliction of 
our souls as a perfect sacrifice, and we have nothing to 
which to cling but thy mercy ^" Or, again, a Rabbi says, 
" May the diminution of my fat and blood be regarded as 
if I had offered them upon the altar ''." But one must not 
suppose that any but superstitious and foolish persons, who 
exist in all religious communities, believed that the fast, 
however imperative, was of avail without repentance and 
change of life. The familiar saying about the Ninevites 
marks the true Rabbinic position ^, " My brethren, it is not 
said of the Ninevites that God saw their sackcloth and their 
fasting, but that God saw their works, that they turned 
from their evil way." " Be not like the fools," say the 

* Pesikta Kahana, 156b ; Rosh Ha-Shanah, 16 a, b; Yebamoth, 105a, &c. 
" Koheleth Rabba on ix. 7 ; Vayikra Eabba, xxx. § 7. 
' Midrash Tehillim on Ps. xxv. (3). * Berachoth, 17 a. 

" Mishnah Taanith, ii. i and Talmud, 15 a, 16 a. 


teachers, " who when they sin bring a sacrifice, but do not 
repent. They know not the difference between good and 
evil, and yet venture to make an offering to God ^." Several 
other passages could be quoted of similar import. 

In other ways, too, the universality of the Day of Atone- 
ment's efficacy was curtailed. The same Mishnah in Yoma 
(viii. 9) goes on to say : " If a man says, I will sin and repent, 
I will sin and repent, he is not allowed to repent. If a man 
says, I will sin, and the Day of Atonement will atone, for 
him the Day will bring no forgiveness. For sins between 
man and God the Day of Atonement brings forgiveness, 
for sins between man and man the Day biings no forgive- 
ness until he is reconciled with his neighbour." The first 
two of these clauses indicate the anxiety of the Rabbis to 
prevent the Atonement Day from degenerating into sheer 
superstition and thus doing more harm than good. Hence 
the importance of the doctrine that for certain sins or for 
certain attitudes of mind repentance is impossible, or, as 
they put it, prevented. It may be convenient to indicate 
the views of the Rabbinic fathers upon the divine element 
in repentance, both in the way of aiding and of impeding 
its accomplishment. 

There is no doubt that the Rabbis were strong believers 
in the freedom of the will. It is a man's own fault if he sins ; 
under normal circumstances he can be good if he chooses. 
Ordinarily, moreover, it is never too late to mend. It may 
indeed be argued that, like Ezekiel, they taught a somewhat 
too atomistic kind of ethical psychology, as if a man could 
at his own will jump from virtue to vice or from vice to 
virtue. The dictum that God judges a man according to 
his present moral condition is constantly repeated ^ Yet 
the other side of the question is also not neglected, and 
it would be false to think that the Rabbis did not believe 
in divine help towards the achievement of rectitude or in 
the struggle for repentance. A famous passage in Yoma, 
often quoted elsewhere, though Maimonides misinterprets it 

'■ Berachoth, 23 a. ' Of. e. g. Bereshit Rabba, liii. § 14. 


in the interests of his own combative theology, is quite 
conclusive upon this point. " For him who would pollute 
himself, the doors are open ; he who would purify himself, 
is helped." The simile which follows strengthens and ex- 
plains the adage. " It is like with the seller of naphtha and 
balsam ; if a man buys naphtha, the seller says : measure it 
yourself; if he buys balsam, the other says: wait and I will 
help you measure, that we may both be perfumed." '■ Our 
father and king," runs the familiar supplication, " bring us 
back in perfect repentance unto thy presence^." "It is 
never too late to mend," like most proverbs, represents 
one side of a complex truth. And so the Rabbis have no 
consistent theory, but give expression to the various facts 
of life as they crop up or occur to them. 

Thus we read in a quaint passage of the Midrash, the 
environment of which it would be a shame to cut off: "It 
says in Canticles: His mouth (lit. palate) is most sweet. 
That is God. As it says in Amos : Seek me and live. Is 
there a sweeter palate than this? It says in Ezekiel: 
I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Is there 
a sweeter mouth than this ? If a man has all his life been 
a complete sinner, and at the end becomes completely 
righteous, he will no longer stumble against wickedness, 
and God will account his former sins as merits, for it says : 
Myrrh, aloes and cassia are all thy sins [here by a slight 
change of vowels the Midrash changes the gartnents of the 
original (Ps. xlv) into sins !]. Thus his sins against God are 
as myrrh and aloes at the season of his contrition ^." 

The Talmudists admit the possibility of deathbed repent- 
ances?, and there are some good stoi'ies and striking adages 
on the subject. Thus, when R. Meir urges his teacher 
Elisha b. Abuja to repent of his apostasy, the sinner 
replies, " Up till when will they receive me 1 " and the 
answer is, "till the very hour of death." "God leaves 

' Yoma, 38 b, 39 a ; Singer's Prayer-book, p. 56. 

" Bemidbar Eabba, x. § i; cf. Jer. Peah, 4 b (Schwab, 11, p. so) ; Shemot 
Eabba, xxxi. § i ; Kiddushin, 40 b. 


the chance of repentance open even in the very moment of 
his judgment." Of a Rabbi, whose sin of unchastity was 
notorious, the story is told, that in the very hour and passion 
of his sin, a fervour of repentance befalls him. He rushes 
forth and calls on the hills, and on heaven and earth, and 
on sun and moon and stars to implore for him compassion 
from God, but they reply, each quoting a verse of scripture, 
that they have enough to do in asking compassion for 
themselves. Then he cries and laments till his soul 
leaves him, and a heavenly voice is heard to say that 
R. Eleasar b. Durdaja is destined for the world to come. 
Thus repentance and death atone for the most grievous 
sin. The remark with which R. Jehudah the Prince 
receives the story is a frequent one in the Talmud: 
"Many can gain the woi'ld to come only after years and 
years, while another gains it in an hour." And on this 
occasion the same Rabbi adds the quaint expression: 
"Not enough that the penitent are received, they are 
even called Rabbi ^ ! " 

Still though the general tone of the Rabbis is joyful and 
encouraging, God being represented as eager to induce the 
sinner to repent up till the very last possible moment, 
they are not unaware that the evil inclination, the sinful 
tendency, at first weak as a spider's web, may become, 
through repeated sins, as strong as a cart-rope. At first 
a guest, it is at last the master of the house. The doctrine 
of habit is not unknown to them. Thus they say : " If a 
man has the chance to sin once or twice and he resists, he 
will not sin again." " If you do not commit a sin three 
times, God will keep you from committing it for ever." 
Sin hardens man's heart. "If a man pollutes himself a 
little, they pollute him much ; if a man sanctifies himself 
a little, they sanctify him much ^." Frequently the sentence 

^ Midrash Buth, vi. § 4. Tanchuma s'Ttn (Bacher, Agada der paldst. 
Amoraer, II, p. 360, n. 4). Aboda Zarah, 17 a, 18 a ; cf. Bereshit Babba, Ixv. 

§ 22. 

' Yoma, 38 b, 39 a. " They pollute him " is almost equivalent to " He 
is polluted." 


occurs, "If a man has committed the same sin twice, it 
seems to him to be permitted \" And the warning ia 
uttered : " A man is forgiven for his iirst offence and for 
his second and third, but not for the fourth." In one place 
among the five kinds of sinners for whom there is no 
repentance, figure those " who sin in order to repent, and 
those who repent much and always sin afresh 2." In another 
passage we read : " He who says I will sin and repent, is 
forgiven three times and then no more." These quaint 
phrases, with their seemingly absurd precision, are all half- 
playfully deduced in odd and far-fetched ways from 
Biblical sentences or words: they must not be taken 
literally, but in their spirit. 

More serious is the doctrine that for some sins repentance 
is impossible. Over and over again we have the saying : 
" For him who sins and causes others to sin no repentance 
is allowed or possible^." The hardening of Pharaoh's 
heart is explained and justified on the theory that after 
giving several chances of repentance to a man, God shuts 
his heart against repentance, so that he may punish him 
for his sins*. "He who is wholly given up to sin, is 
unable to repent, and there is no forgiveness to him for 
ever *." The idea that he who causes the many to sin will 
not be allowed to repent is partly due to the common 
Talmudic doctrine that the worst sin is making others sin, 
just as the highest goodness is helping others to be good. 
But it is also partly to be accounted for by the very 
practical conception of repentance entertained by the 
Rabbis. The usual critics of the Rabbinic religion may 
say that this practical conception of repentance is a mark 
of legalism. That the Rabbinic equivalent of the verb 
" repent " is to " do repentance " has actually been used 
as an argument to show that Rabbinic repentance is a 

' Yoma, 86 b, &c. * Yoma, 86 b ; Aboth R. Nathan, 39 and 40. 

' Abotli, V. 26 ; Sanhedrin, 107 b. 

* Shemot Rabba, Par. xi. § 1 and 3. 

• Midrash Tehillim on Ps. 1 fin. 



mere outward rite, an opus operatum'^. The criticism 
is groundless and unjust, but it is true that to the Rabbis 
the essence of repentance lay in such a thorough change 
of mind that it issues in change of life and change of 
conduct. To repent from the fear of God is better than 
to repent through chastisement or suffering, and to repent 
from love is better than to repent from fear^. The true 
penitent is he who has the opportunity to do the same 
sin again, in the same environment, and who does it 
not^ To repent in old age of the sins of manhood 
or youth is of no great merit or avail *. It is, moreover, 
of the essence of repentance that the injury done to his 
neighbour should be repaired by the sinner, and the 
pardon of that neighbour obtained. This is the meaning 
of the Mishnah that the sins of a man against his 
neighbour cannot be forgiven before satisfaction has been 
rendered and reconciliation secured. Although, from one 
point of view, nothing can be worse than idolatry or apos- 
tasy, yet the Talmudists also lay down the maxim that as 
he who is good towards heaven and towards his fellow men 
is a good " Zadik," and he who is good towards heaven and 
bad towards his fellow men is a not good "Zadik," so he who 
is wicked against heaven and wicked against his fellow men 
is a bad sinner, while he who is wicked against heaven, 
but not wicked against his fellow men, is a not had sinner '. 
In accordance with this view the Talmudic prescriptions 
about practical repentance are very pressing and precise. 
So far as an injury could be undone, it was essential to 
cancel it as a condition of reconciliation with God. Repara- 
tion is a test of sincerity. Thus we find in Yoma : " R. Isaac 
said : If a man affronts his neighbour, though only in words, 

' Cp. my article on " Rabbinic Judaism and the Epistles of St. Paul," 
J. Q. R., Jan., 1901, p. 202 ; Weber, Jiidische Theologie, 2nd ed. (1897), p. 261, 
and the note on p. 409. ' Yoma, 86 a. ^ Yoma, 86 b. 

• This seems the meaning of the saying in Aboda Zarah, 19 a, but cf. 
also, for the other side, the graceful passage Succah, 53 a. 

' Kiddushin, 40 a. 


he must appease him. If he can be appeased by a gift of 
money, spare it not if thou hast it, but if not, get friends to 
appease him. R. Hisda said : Thou must ask his pardon 
before three friends, and must ask it three times, and, says 
R. Jos^ b. Chanina, not more. R. Joseph b. Habo said : 
If the man thou hast wronged has died, thou must take 
ten persons with thee to his grave and say, I have sinned 
against the Lord and against this man whom I wronged." 
The story is told that one Rabbi went to the house of another 
offended Rabbi on the eve of thirteen successive Days of 
Atonement to ask his forgiveness. Even though the 
wronger has made complete reparation in kind, says the 
Mishnah (Baba Kamma, viii. 7), his deed is not forgiven till 
he has asked pardon from the wronged. Why it is said that 
pardon need not be asked moi'e than three times depends 
partly upon an odd interpretation of a Biblical verse and 
partly upon the idea that if a man has been three times 
publicly besought by another to forgive him and still 
refuses, then the sin reverts to him and leaves the original 
offender. The refuser is called cruel (Achzari) and is false 
to the character of the true Israelite. The adages occur : 
" If a man yields his rights, his sins are forgiven." " God 
forgives him who forgives his neighbour." " So long as we 
are merciful, God is merciful to us; if we are not merciful 
to others, God is not merciful to us ^." And it is from the 
practical point of view, though rather oddly exaggerated, 
that complete repentance is considered as impossible or 
difficult to those persons who, from the very nature of their 
sin, cannot make a complete restitution. Thus he who makes 
others sin is unable to undo his wrong, for he cannot know 
or reach all those whom he has influenced for evil. This 
seems to be the real reason of his inability to become a 
perfect penitent, rather than the fantastic explanation in 
Yoma that it would never do for him to be in heaven and 

' Yoma, 87 a, b ; Jer. Yoma, viii. 8 ; Baba Mezia, 115 a; Kosh Ha- 
Shanah, 17 a ; Jer. Baba Kamma, viii. 8 (Schwab, X, p. 67) ; Tossefta Baba 
Kamma, ix ; Yoma, 23 a ; Megilla, a8 a. 

Q a 


his deluded disciples in hell. So we are told that it is 
difficult for shepherds and tax-collectors to repent, the idea 
being that they do not know the actual persons whom they 
have wronged and thus cannot make complete restitution ^. 
We must, however, take these utterances with a grain of 
salt. From what is said about repentance elsewhere, it 
would seem impossible to believe that the Rabbis actually 
meant that a shepherd, even though he had fed his flock 
upon various meadows whose owners were unknown to 
him, or if he had forgotten to whom they belonged, or the 
particular spots where he had pastured his sheep, would 
not be forgiven by God if his repentance were sincere. 
Perhaps their meaning is rather that wrongs committed 
against indefinite persons are not merely less easy to repair, 
but more usually persisted in and less frequently regretted 
and abandoned. 

However this may be, it is certain that the real stress of 
the Rabbis was laid upon the sincerity of repentance. That 
is why they talk so often about the question of repeated 
sins and repeated confessions^. If a repentance does not 
produce a change of heart and deed, what can it be worth ? 
Thus they say that it is useless to confess with the mouth 
till the heart overflows with repentance. Quoting as usual 
the Hosean bidding, "Take with you words," the Pesikta 
remarks : " God says to the Israelites I do not exact of you 
sacrifices or sin-offerings, but that you appease me with 
prayer and supplication and the collection of the heart ^. 
' Take words,' yet not mere empty words, but confession 

* Baba Eamma, 94 b, and Wuensche's explanatory note, ii. 2, p. 42. In 
Maimonidfis' section on Repentance, chap, iv, the list of such persons is 
considerably extended. 

* Cf. the many discussions as to whether old or repeated sins are or arc 
not to be confessed «gain upon successive Days of Atonement. Cf. Yoma, 
86 b ; Shemot K., lii. § 2 ; Mid. Tehillim, xxxii. (a) ; Jer. Yoma, viii. 9 
(Schwab, V, p. 257). 

' The Rabbinic rvnz can hardly be better rendered into English than by 
the word "collection" (cf. German Samndung). It seems a pity that 
Dr, Murray has no later quotation than 1868. 


and prayer and tears." Familiar and frequent is the saying : 
" If a man has an unclean thing in his hands, he may wash 
them in all the seas of the world and he will never be clean. 
If he throw it away, a little water will quite suffice ^." 

The Rabbis were far from confining the need or utility 
of repentance to the penitential season from New Year 
to the Day of Atonement. Very common with them is 
the saying, " Eepent one day before thy death." When his 
disciples said to R, Eleazar : " Does then a man know when 
he will die?" he answered: "the more necessary that he 
repent to-day. Then if he die to-morrow, all his days will 
have been passed in penitence, as it says : Let thy garments 
be always white ^." 

For repentance is the great mediatorial bond between 
God and man. It entered into the divine plan from the 
beginning. Hence the frequent doctrine that Repentance 
was one of the seven things created before the world. " God," 
it says in one passage, " marked out the whole world, and 
it could not stand till he created repentance^." It seems 
that at first the tradition ran that six things were created 
before the world. To these R. Ahaba added repentance, 
and his addition became so popular and was so much 
quoted that the six things were enlarged to seven, of 
which repentance is always one*. Though we meet the 
view that God exacts requital (for the insistence on his 
eagerness to meet the sinner half-way led some, perchance, 
to think that he was all too easy-going in his compassion 
and forgiveness), yet the fundamental notion is that, as God 
chose to create man frail and liable to sin, the only thing 
for God to do was to aid him to repentance and to be ever 

* Midrash Tehillim on Ps. xlv. § 4 ; Pesikta Babbati, 198 b (ed. Fried- 
mann) ; Echa Eabba on iii. 40. 

^ Aboth, ii. 14 ; Sabbath, 153 a ; Mid. Tehillim on Ps. xc. (16) ; 
Koheleth Babba on ix. 8. 
' Pirke R. Eliezer, chap. iii. 

* Bereshit Rabba, i. § 4 ; Nedarim, 39 a, &c., &c. Cf. Bacher, Agada 
der paMsHnensisehen AmorcKr, II, 510, III, 656, and his excellent notes. 
In the note (4) on iii. 656, for Beracboth, 54 a read Pesachim, 54 a. 


ready to forgive him. In one passage in the Midrash, 
Abraham is made to say to God: "Thou canst not lay 
hold of the cord at both ends at once. If thou desirest 
strict justice, the world cannot endure ; if thou desirest 
the preservation of the world, strict justice cannot endure^." 

Repentance, therefore, is a constant necessity. It is 
often compared with the sea, which is always accessible. 
Men can bathe in it at every hour. So the gates of repent- 
ance are ever wide open for all who wish to enter ^. God 
is represented as willing and even anxious to welcome the 
penitent. Sentences like the following are usual : " God 
says, My hands are stretched out towards the periitent: 
I thrust none back who gives me his heart in repentance." 
" God's hand is stretched out under the wings of the 
heavenly chariot to snatch the penitent from the grasp 
of justice." " He holds no creature for unworthy, but 
opens the door to all at every hour : he who would enter 
can enter." " Open for me," says God, " a gateway of 
repentance as big as a needle's eye, and I will open for 
you gates wide enough for horses and chariots." " If your 
sins are as high as heaven, even unto the seventh heaven 
and even to the throne of glory, and you repent, I will 
receive you''." 

God is constantly represented as pleading with the 
Israelites to prove to them that repentance is within their 
power. If Israel says, " we are poor, we have no offerings 
to make," God replies, " I need only words." If they say, 
" we know nothing " [for by 'words 'the Midrash means the 
words of the Law], God says, " Then weep and pray before 
me, and I will accept your prayei-." Or, again : " The 
Israelites say. Lord, if we repent, will you accept our 
repentance? And God replies, I have accepted the re- 
pentance of Cain and Ahab and Jeconiah and Manasseh, 

' Vayikra R., x. § i. 

" Echa R. on iii. 43 ; Mid. Tehillim on Ps. Ixv. (4) ; Debarim R., iL § 12. 
* Shemot R., xii. § 4; Fesachim, 119 a; Mid. Tehillim on Ps. cxx. (7); 
Shir R. on V. a ; Pesikta R., 185 a. 


and shall I not accept yours 1 " Or God and the Israelites 
are compared to a king and to the king's son who had gone 
from his father a journey of 100 days ; when he was urged 
to return to his father, he said, I cannot. Then his father 
sent to say, " Return as far as you can, and I will come to 
you the rest of the way ^." God loves the penitent. Thus 
it is said : " As a man joins the two feet of a bed, or as 
a man puts two boards together," so God brings the 
repentant near to him ^. Several times we meet with the 
saying that what is rejected in the sacrificial beasts is accept- 
able in man, that is, the bruised and contrite heart. Or again : 
" Broken vessels are a disgrace for a man to use, but God 
loves the broken heart." " Him who repents of his sin, God 
honours : he gives him a name of endearment. So the sons 
of Korah after they repented were called Lilies (an allusion 
to Psalm xlv. i), and David was called the Servant of 
God ^" A familiar prayer opens with the words : " Thou 
givest a hand to transgressors, and thy right hand is 
stretched out to receive the penitent *." God is ready 
to cancel decrees of punishment and doom because of 
repentance. " Three things," it says in the Midrash, " can 
cancel evil decrees, namely, prayer, almsgiving, and repent- 
ance." To these three great specifics some would add 
change of name, good works, exile, and fasting. In the 
Talmud four things are mentioned as possessed of the 
power of annulling the decree of judgment : " almsgiving, 
prayer, change of name, and change of action (in repent- 
ance) ^." The collocations are odd, and not without their 
dangers. Almsgiving and good works, regarded as preserva- 
tives from evil, open the door to superstitious formalism 
and to a degradation of charity. I pointed out before how 

^ Shemot E., xxxviii. § 4 ; Pesikta K., 160 a seq. ; Pesikta R., 184 b. 
2 Vayikra R., iii. § 3. 

' Vayikra K., vii. §2 ; Mid. Tehillim on Ps. xviii (3}. 
* Singer's Prayer-book, pp. 61 and 267. 

' Bereshit E., xliv. § 12 ; Vayikra E., x. J 5 ; Eosh Ha-Shanah, 16 b; Aboth, 
iv. 15. 


the fantastic idea was adopted that God judged the world 
between New Year and the Day of Atonement. The fancy 
took root, and it largely pervades the Jewish Liturgy. Thus 
in the prayer-book for the Day of Atonement, according to 
the German and Polish ritual, there is a prayer to which 
great importance is attached and which goes into the 
strangest details. These are, however, largely taken from 
the Talmud, On the New Year w^e are told it is inscribed, 
and on Atonement it is sealed, who are to live and who are 
to die, and of those doomed to death, who are to die young 
and who old, who by sword and who by famine, who by 
pestilence and who by fire, and so on. But, it is added, 
" repentance, prayer, and almsgiving cancel the evil decree." 
It would be interesting if a future historian of the Jews 
could inquire into the religious and ethical results of these 
conceptions for evil and for good. 

In the Talmud an almost comic turn is given to the 
doctrine of God's desire to forgive by the remark, based 
upon a queer interpretation of 2 Sam. xxiii. 1-3, that if 
God rules over man, the righteous rule over him, because 
'* if God ordains a decree, the righteous cancel it." A strange 
prayer to himself is put into God's mouth : " May it be my 
will that my mercy overcomes my anger, so that I may 
deal with my creatures according to the attribute of mercy 
and not according to strict justice ^." Thus God begs his 
children to repent while he is standing upon the attribute 
df mercy, for if he be on the attribute of justice, he will 
not know how to proceed^. 

As an illustration of Midrashic inconsistency, which one 
has to interpret according to its prevailing sentiment, I may 
quote the following passages, which in one form or another 
occur again and again. " Why is the plural used in the 
expression D'SN Tin ? Because God is longsuffering both 
towards the righteous and the wicked. He is long- 
suffering towards the righteous in that he requites them 
in this world for the few sins which they have committed, 

' Moed KatoD, 16 b ; Berachoth, 7 a. ^ Pesikta K., 18a b. 


SO that they may receive their full reward in the world 
to come. He is longsuffering to the wicked in that 
he gives them ease in this world, and thus requites them 
for the few good deeds which they have done, in order to 
exact the full penalty of their sins in the world to come." 
Another Rabbi said : " The plural indicates that God is long- 
suffering before he exacts requital, and he is longsuffering 
(i. e, gentle or slow) while he exacts it." E. Chanina said 
(and his saying is often quoted as a sort of corrective to 
a too easy-going conception of God) : " He who says that 
God is longsuffering — that he leaves sin unpunished — may 
he suffer for his folly. God is longsuffering, but he exacts 
his due." K. Levi said : " His longsuffering consists in re- 
moving his wrath afar. It is like a king who had two cruel 
legions. The king said : If they are with me in the city, 
directly the inhabitants annoy me, they will fall upon 
them, and kill them : therefore I will send them away, and 
when the citizens anger me, during the time that I send 
for my troops and they arrive, the citizens may come and 
appease me. So God says: Wrath and anger are two 
angels of destruction, I will send them far away ; when the 
Israelites anger me, before the angels arrive, the Israelites 
may repent and I shall receive their repentance." R. Isaac 
says : " God shuts the door behind the angels of wrath. 
Before he opens the door, his mercy is at hand ^." 

God is not ashamed to state that he breaks his laws and 
leaves them unfulfilled in order that the Israelites may 
repent. Thus : " God told Jeremiah : Bid the Israelites 
repent. They replied : How can we repent ? Have we not 
made God angry by our sins 1 Then God bade Jeremiah 
say : Though I declared I would destroy the sinner who 
should do what you have done, have I done so ? No, for I am 

' Pesikta K., i6i b. Cf. Buber's remarks in notes 93 seq. on this page ; 
the translation given above follows the Pesikta as corrected by the 
.Jerusalem Talmud (I. A.) ; Jer. Taanith, 65 b (Schwab, VI, p. 155) ; Baba 
Kamma, 50 a, &o., &c. (Bacher, Agada der pal. Amorder, I, p. 8) ; cf. also 
Sanhedrin, ma. 


merciful, and I keep not anger for ever. ... It is before your 
father in heaven that ye come ^." " Beloved is repentance 
before God, for he cancels his own words for its sake. 
For it says in the Law, ' If a man take a wife and find 
some unseemly thing in her, he shall -wrrite her a bill of 
divorcement and send her away, and if she become another 
man's wife and he divorce her or die, then her former 
husband may not take her again to be his wife, after she 
is defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord.' 
But God does not act thus. Even though the Israelites 
have forsaken him (their husband) and served other 
gods, God says (Jer. iii. i), Repent, draw near to me, 
and I will receive you^." Whatever arguments the 
Israelites adduce to show the hopelessness of repent- 
ance, God or his prophet is ready to cap them. Thus 
Jeremiah bade them repent, and said, Where are your 
fathers who sinned? They replied, Where are your 
prophets who did not sin? Then both quote Zechariah 
(for chronology does not exist for the Rabbis), and 
Jeremiah wins the day. Again he bids them repent, and 
they say, If a master sell his slave, or a man divorce his 
wife, what have they any more to do with each other? 
Then through his prophet God replies : " Where is the bill 
of your mother's divorcement? Or to whom have I sold 
you ? Only sin separates you from me. Therefore return." 
"Nebuchadnezzar," says Resh-Lakish, "was called God's 
servant to meet this very argument, for if a servant 
acquires property, to whom does that property belong ^ ?" 
Israel, though acquired by Nebuchadnezzar the servant, still 
belonged to the servant's Master. 

The Rabbis are fond of illustrating God's readiness to 
accept the penitent by pointing out the difference between 
God's ways and man's ways. The following are examples : 
" If one man has oflTended another, it is uncertain if he will 
let himself be appeased at all, and even so, if he will be 

' Pesikta K., 165 a. ^ Pesikta E., 184 a ; Yoma, 86 b. 

' Sanhedrin, 105 a. 


satisfied -with mere words, but God only demands words, 
and is even grateful to receive them^" " If a man has put 
his neighbour openly to shame, and wants to be reconciled 
to him, the neighbour says, You put me to open shame and 
want a private reconciliation ! Fetch the people before 
whom you spoke ill of me, and I will be reconciled. God is 
not so ; a man reviles and blasphemes him in the open street, 
and God says. Repent in secret and I will receive you." 
" If a man commits a crime, he is inscribed for ever in the 
books of the government, but if a man sin against God 
and repent, God washes away the entry of his sin." " To 
an earthly king a man goes full and returns empty; to 
God he goes empty and returns full." "Man writes an 
accusation against his fellow, and (only) withdraws it for 
much money : God writes an accusation, and withdraws it 
for mere words (i. e. repentance, Hosea xiv. 2)." " Man 
leaps suddenly upon his enemy to do him evil, but God 
warned Pharaoh before each plague that he might repent." 
'' A man can shoot an arrow a few furlongs, but repentance 
reaches to the throne of glory ^." 

The Rabbinic doctrine is perhaps best summed up in a 
familiar passage from the Pesikta ^ : " Who is like God, 
a teacher of sinners that they may repent ? They asked 
Wisdom, What shall be the punishment of the sinner? 
Wisdom answered: Evil pursueth sinners (Prov. xiii. ai). 
They asked Prophecy. It replied : The soul that sinneth 
shall die (Ezek. xviii. 4). They asked the Law. It replied : 
Let him bring a sacrifice (Lev. i. 4). They asked God, 
and he replied : Let him repent and obtain his atonement. 
My children, what do I ask of you 1 Seek me and live." 

Scattered throughout the Rabbinical literature are say- 
ings in praise of repentance and its results. We find 
a number of them in Yoma. " Great is repentance for it 

' Yoma, 86 b. 

^ Yoma, 86 b ; Pesikta K., 163 b ; Sifri, § 134 ; Pesikta R., 183 a, 185 a ; 
Shemot R., ix. § 9 ; Pesikta K., 163 a. 

* Pesikta K., 158 b ; Jer. Maccoth, ii. 6 (Schwab XI, p. 89). 


brings healing upon the world." " Great is repentance 
for it reaches to the throne of glory." " Great is repent- 
ance for it brings redemption to Israel." The question 
is discussed whether the Messiah's coming is dependent 
upon Israel's repentance. One distinguished Eabbi said, 
" The period of the redemption depends solely upon repent- 
ance and good works." Then two others dispute as to 
whether Israel will be redeemed even without repentance, 
and the question is not decided with certainty. Elsewhere 
we read that, " the Messiah will come at his appointed 
day, whether the Israelites repent or no, but if they made 
complete repentance, God would send him even before his 
time." Another Rabbi, with fine exaggeration, declares that, 
" if the Israelites repented for a single day, the redemption 
would ensue." And God is made to say, " It depends upon 
yourselves. As the lily blooms and her heart is turned 
upward, so if you repent and your heart is turned upward, 
in that very hour I will bring the Redeemer \" 

Thus, "as a garment which is dirty can be wf shed and 
made clean, so the Israelites, though sinful, can by repent- 
ance make themselves clean before God \" It is disputed 
whether the penitent or the righteous who have not sinned 
occupy the higher place, but the general view is that 
where the penitent stand the righteous stand not ^ " Better," 
said R. Jacob, " is one hour of repentance and good deeds 
in this world than the whole life of the world to come ; 
yet better is one hour of blissfulness of spirit in the world 
to come than the whole life of this world*." 

We have seen that the Rabbis distinguished between 
a repentance of fear and a repentance of love ; and also that 
the sincerity of repentance was mainly proved by its results. 
Occasionally we find sentences which speak of that element 
of repentance which we sometimes call contrition. Thus 

1 Yoma, 86 a and 86 b ; Sanhedrin, 97 b ; Shemot E., xxv. i la ; Pesikta 
K., 163 b ; Shir Rabba, v. a ; Mid. Tehillim on Ps. xlv. (3). 
" Shemot E., xxiii. § 10. ' Berachoth, 34 b ; Sanhedrin, 99 a. 

* Aboth, iv. 24. 


they quote and use Joel's adage, " Rend your hearts and not 
your garments." They speak of self-humiliation within the 
heart which is better than a thousand lashes upon the back. 
The mere sense of shame is sufficient, says one, to secure 
forgiveness. Another declares that, " he who sacrifices his 
evU desire and confesses his sin is regarded as if he had 
honoured God in this world and in the world to come." 
So, too, he who humbles his spirit is i*egarded as if he 
had offered all the sacrifices of the law ; while he who 
sins and is sorry is at once forgiven^. It is in accord- 
ance with their high estimate of Repentance that it is 
formally declared to be a serious sin to remind a penitent 
of his former misdeeds ^. 

The whole doctrine of Repentance as thus set forth 
is only applicable to earthly conditions. The prevailing 
opinion is that after death no further chance is allowed. 
It is curious that though the Rabbis accept the doctrine 
of purgatory, there are but few references to what would 
now seem the very obvious idea that the soul by its repent- 
ance after death can mitigate its punishment or shorten 
its purification. But, almost invariably, their doctrine 
on this subject is quite definite. " The crooked cannot be 
made straight." That is to say : " it can be made straight 
in this world, but not in the world to come." Thus the 
Midrash declares that there were two partners in sin ; one 
repented before his death, the other did not. In the next 
world, the first is among the righteous, the second among 
the sinners. The latter sees the former, and says : " This 
man was my companion : we stole and did evil together, and 
why is he among the righteous and I among the sinners ? 
Then they say : Thou fool ! Thou wast dragged with cords 
to thy grave, and thy companion saw thy miserable fate 
and abandoned his evil ways, and his repentance has given 
him life and honour among the righteous. Thou also wast 

' Berachoth, 7 a, la b ; Sanhedrin, 43 b ; Chaggigah, 5 a. The word used 
' Baba Mezia, 58 b ; cp. Sirach, viii. 5. 


given the power to repent. Hadst thou done so, it would 
have been well with thee. Then he replies : I will go now 
and repent. But they say to him : Thou fool 1 This world 
is like the Sabbath ; the world from which thou earnest 
is like the day before the Sabbath. If a man has prepared 
nothing on the day before, what shall he eat on the Sabbath? 
This life is like the sea ; that world is like the land. If a 
man has not got together food upon the land, what shall he 
eat upon the sea ? This world is like the desert ; that world 
is like the cultivated land (sic). If a man has not gathered 
food in the one, what shall he eat in the other? This world 
is like the days of winter; that world is like the days 
of summer. If a man does not plough in the summer, what 
shall he eat in the winter ? This world is like the dining- 
hall ; that world is like the ante-chamber. If a man has 
not prepared himself in the ante-chamber, shall he be 
allowed to enter into the hall ? " So, too, it is said : " While 
a man lives, God hopes for his repentance; but after his 
death, his hope has gone. It is like a band of robbers who 
lay in prison. One of them found an opening by which 
all escaped save one. To him the overseer said: Thou 
unfortunate! Here was a hole, and thou didst not creep 
through it! So God says to the sinner: The way of 
repentance lay open before you. You did not use it : your 
hope is lost." So, too, it is said : " In this world God can 
be bribed by prayer and repentance, but not in the world 
to come. Therefore he says : So long as the gates of 
prayer are open, repent ; for I take bribes in this world, 
but not when I sit in judgment'." To feel shame in the 
next world will not help you. But those who have felt 
shame in this world will not have to feel shame in the 
next. To encounter the day of judgment with success 
a man must have acquired his advocates (paraJdetoi) on 
earth: these advocates are good works and repentance, 
and then, though nine hundred and ninety-nine accuse 

* Midrash Ruth, on i. 17 ; Mid. Kolieleth, on i. 15, vii. 15 ; Mid. Proverbs, 
on vi. 6; cf. Bemidbar Eabba, xi. § 7, xiv. § 6 ; Mid. Tehillim on Ps. xvii. (5). 


him, lie will be delivered by that one among a thousand 
of whom Elihu spoke of old^. 

There are, however, some stray passages in the Rabbinical 
literature in which a successful repentance after death is 
alluded to and affirmed. The leading idea in these passages 
has some connexion with the efficacy of prayers by the 
living on behalf of the dead ^. But restricting our attention 
to the passages in which the dead themselves are repre- 
sented as accomplishing their own salvation, it is obvious 
that the importance and interest of these rare utterances are 
so great that they deserve special attention. The first 
passage to which allusion must be made occurs in the 
Talmud (Erubin, 19a). Rabbi Joshua b. Levi comments on 
Psalm Ixxxiv. 7 : mia noy niana dj iniiT'ti'i ryo naan poya naiy 
[" Who passing through the valley of weeping make it a place 
of springs : the early rain also covereth it with blessings "], 
and he says : " The word ''">2iy signifies the sons of men who 
transgress (Dnaij)) the will of the Holy One ; pDy signifies 
that they deepen Hell for themselves [i. e. after death] ; 
nann means that they weep and let their tears fall like the 
stream [of wine] [that fell during a whole year] in the 
reservoir [under the altar] ; miD riDyi maia M signifies that 
they admit the justice of their condemnation, and say : Well 
hast thou judged, well hast thou acquitted, weU hast thou 
condemned, well hast thou ordained Gehinnom for the wicked 
and the Garden of Eden for the righteous." The Talmud con- 
tinues : " Is this indeed so ? Has not Simon b. Lakish said : 
' The wicked, even at the gate of Gehinnom, do not return 
in repentance ? As it is said (Isa. Ixvi. 34) : nJaa wil INX^I 
••a cyE'an DiK'JNn, It is not written lye'DB* (who have trans- 
gi-essed), but D''jJK'an (who still transgress), for they go on 

' Shemot Rabba, Par. xxx. § 19 fin. (Baoher, Agada der Tannaiien, I, 
p. 432) ; Sabbath, 3a a. 

* TJie subject of prayer for the benefit of the dead by the living lies 
outside my limits. Cp., however, the article by Israel L6vi in Bevw des 
Etudes Juives, vol. XXIX, p. 43 seq. It may be stated here that the famous 
prayer in a Maoo. xii. 44 has no parallel in early Rabbinic literature. 


sinning eternally. This is no difficulty ; for the one refers to 
Israelite transgressors^ the other to heathen transgressors.' " 

This passage clearly implies that an Israelite sinner at 
least may repent successfully even after death. This is 
more definitely stated in a passage in the Yalkut Shimeoni 
to Isa. xxvi. 2, and again in the Midrash called the 
Alphabet of Rabbi Akiba (8th century A. 0.), printed in 
Jellinek's Beth JSamidrash, vol. Ill, pp. 12-64). Com- 
menting on the text D'3»N "iDK> pns '•D N3^i Dnye* inns, and 
explaining the last words to mean |0N CIDINE', the Yalkut 
says : " For the sake of a single Amen which the wicked 
answer in the midst of Gehinnom, they are delivered from 
its midst." In the 8eder It. Amram^ (ed. Warsaw, p. 13 b) 
David is cited as singing praises to God, whereupon the 
righteous in Paradise answer Amen and the wicked in Ge- 
hinnom do likewise. God inquires: "Who are answering 
Amen ? " The angels respond : " These are the sinners of 
Israel, who despite that they are in great distress, make 
a strong effort (aVfnriD) and say Amien before thee." Im- 
mediately God says to the angels : " Open for them the 
gates of Paradise, that they may sing before me," as it 
is written, &c. (citing Isa. xxvi. a). This is evidently a 
variant of the passage which I now proceed [to quote, but 
its appearance in the prayer-book of R. Amram indicates 
that some value was attached to the view that the response 
Am^n was efficacious for salvation in the future as in the 
present life. 

"The sin of the wicked in Israel is accounted to them 
as righteousness in the hour when they see the entrance 
to Gehinnom and accept of themselves the judgment of 
Gehinnom. And straightway they are brought up and 
they repent before God, and they are received before the 
Shechinah like the righteous who have never sinned, and 
they receive a reward for every sin as if it were righteous- 

' For some minor features in the passage in R. Amram cf. Pesachim, 
119. There is also a parallel to the main idea in Tana debe Eliahu Zutta, 
oh. XX (I. A.). 


ness. . . . They are made to ait in the assembly near the 
Shechinah, because they broke their heart in repentance 
before the Holy One." A little before, the following extra- 
ordinary passage occurs (p. 27 fin. p. 28, repeated with slight 
variations in the Yalkut, loc. cit.) : 

" The Holy One will sit in the Garden of Eden and study 
[the Law], and all the righteous sit before him, and all the 
angels stand around. On God's right are the sun and the 
planets and the moon, on his left are the stars, and God 
explains to them the meanings of the new law which he is 
going to give them through the Messiah. And when they 
have finished the lesson (hagada), Zerubbabel the son of 
Shealtiel stands on his feet and says [the Kaddish], May 
he be magnified and sanctified ! and his voice goes from 
one end of the world to another, and all the world (dijiyn ''N3) 
answer Amen, and even the wicked of Israel and the righteous 
of the nations who are left in Gehinnom answer and say 
Amen from the midst of Gehinnom, till the whole universe 
resounds, and their voice is heard by God. And he asks, 
' What is this great noise which I have heard 1 ' The 
angels of the service answer and say : ' Lord, these are the 
wicked in Israel and the righteous of the nations who are 
left in Gehinnom, and answer Amen from the midst of 
Gehinnom \' Straightway the compassion of the Holy One 
is stirred exceedingly, and he says : ' What shall I add to 
the punishment they have already borne? It is the Evil 
Inclination which has caused them to sin,' Then God takes 
the keys of Gehinnom, and gives them to Michael and Gabriel 
before all the righteous, and says to them : ' Go and open the 
gates of Gehinnom, and bring them up from Gehinnom, as it 
is said, Open the gates, and a righteous people shall come 
through them who keep faithfulness ' (Isa, xxvi. 2). Straight- 
way Michael and Gabriel go and open the 40,000 ^ gates of 

Gehinnom, and bring them up from Gehinnom They take 

them by the hand, and bring them up as a man lifts up his 

'■ In the Yalkut the passage adds here the words, " and acknowledge the 
justice of their punishment." ' Another reading is 8,000. 



neighbour and brings him by a cord from a pit, and the 
angels wash and anoint them, and heal them from the wounds 
of Gehinnom and clothe them in fair raiment, and take them 
by the hand, and bring them before God and before all the 
righteous, as though they had been made priests and men 
of honour, as it is said, 'Thy priests shall be clothed 
with salvation, and thy saints shall rejoice in goodness' 
(2 Chron. vi 41). ' Thy priests ' : these are the righteous 
of the nations, who are priests before God in this world, 
like Antoninus the son of Severus and his fellows ; and 
' thy saints ' : these are the wicked in Israel, who are 
called saints, as it is said, 'Gather my saints together 
unto me * (Ps. L 5). And when the angels bring them to 
the gate of the Garden of Eden, the angels enter first and 
take counsel with the Holy One ; then the Holy One says : 
' Let them enter and see my glory.' And when they enter 
they fall on their faces, and worship and bless and praise 
his name ^." 

The reader will have noticed the strange use of Biblical 
texts in these interesting extracts. It would be an inte- 
resting point for a scholar to consider how far the various 
dicta, and even the various opinions, of the Rabbis were 
influenced by literal or strained interpretations of Biblical 
passages, or whether these interpretations were merely 
dragged in to substantiate an opinion which was already 
formed. In any case, the Biblical verses doubtless affected 
the manner in which the opinions were enunciated. A few 
of the more favourite passages as regards repentance may 
now be pointed out. 

The favourite quotation, as I mentioned before, is 
doubtless the opening of the last chapter of Hosea. 
" O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God, for thou hast 

' This striking and picturesque passage is quoted in a fascinating article 
by the Kev. S. Singer, entitled, " Is Salvation possible after death ? " 
{Homiletical Review, May, 1885, p. 283). The passage from the "Alphabet 
of R. Akiba," is also cited in English in St&helin, Rabbinical Literature 
(London, 1748, vol. II, p. 68). 


stumbled by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and 
return unto the Lord; say unto him, Take away all 
iniquity, and accept that which is good, so will we render 
as bullocks the offering of our lips." In these verses the 
Babbinic fathers found the full doctrine of repentance and 
confession. Here, too, they found the basis for their view 
that pmyer, confession, and repentance are God's chosen 
substitutes for sacrifice and burnt-offering. 

Next to this passage, they found, perhaps, the eighteenth 
chapter of Ezekiel most fruitful. " Have I any pleasure 
in the death of the wicked, and not rather that he should 
turn from his way and live ? " Jeremiah's exhortations, too, 
are quoted again and again. "Keturn, O backsliding 
children. I am merciful. I will not keep anger for ever." 
The Psalmist's "broken and contrite heart" is also much 
appealed to ; and the allusions are frequent to the verse, 
" Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin 
is covered," with its apparently contradictory sequence, 
"Mine iniquity I have not hid," and to the verse in 
Proverbs, "He that covereth his transgi-essions shall not 
prosper, but whoso confeaseth and forsaketh them shall 
obtain mercy." The contradiction is prettily explained 
by one Rabbi on the assumption that the sin which is 
covered refers to sins against God, the sin which is openly 
confessed to sins against man ^. 

The foregoing quotations from scripture were interpreted 
in their literal sense. I may now give two or three 
examples of unnatural or homiletic exegesis. We saw how 
"Peace, peace to the far and to the near" was used to 
assess the worth of the penitent. So, too, the view of the 
Psalmist, " A people which sball be created shall praise 
the Lord," is explained to refer to sinners who repent and 
pray before God at New Year and the Day of Atonement, 
and who, because they change their deeds, are, as it were, 
created by God anew ^ 

' Yoma, 86 b ; cf. Maimonides on Repentance, ii. 5. 
' MidrasU Tehillim on Ps. ciL (3). 

E a 


It would take me too long and too far to mention the 
odd changes of vowels and letters which the Midrash 
sometimes indulges in to prove or illustrate its points, but 
reference must be made to two more Biblical texts which 
are constantly appealed to. The first is the enumeration 
of the divine attributes in Exodus xxxiv or Numbers xiv. 
The Hebrew idiom of expressing emphasis by putting the 
infinitive before the finite verb was possibly no longer 
familiar or intelligible to the Rabbis. At any rate, for 
homiletical reasons, they explain that the phrase, npy ab np31 , 
must have a special meaning, for here, they say, it is dis- 
tinctly stated that God will and that God will not acquit 
(the sinner). The explanation of the contradiction is 
that God will only acquit those who have repented of 
their sins^. The second passage to which I would refer 
is the third verse of the ninetieth Psalm : " Thou turnest 
man to destruction : then thou sayest. Return, ye children 
of men." This is the invariable Biblical support for the 
Rabbinic doctrine that repentance was created before 
the world. Before, that is, God had formed the world, 
the divine voice had already proclaimed the necessity 
and the value of repentance. The first pai-t of the verse 
is intei-preted to mean, Thou bringeat man to contrition ; 
the second is the summons to repentance. Or again, 
"Thou turnest man to destruction" is supposed to signify, 
" Thou causest him to turn until he is crushed " : in other 
words, God accepts repentance up till the very moment 
of death. I may add that the verb shub is so associated 
in the Rabbinic mind with repentance, that, as in this 
interpretation of the ninetieth Psalm, they can hardly 
conceive it possible for it to mean anything else. A curious 
illustration of this tendency can be found in a verse from 
the Books of Kings, where it is stated of Josiah that there 
was no king like unto him who turned unto the Lord with 
all his heart. Hence one Rabbi infers that Josiah was 
a great penitent^. 

'■ Yoma, 86 a ; cf. Sifri, 33 a. ' Sabbath, 56 b. 


Other Biblical heroes are connected by the Rabbis with 
the subject of repentance and with better reason than in 
the case of Josiah. Thus it is stated of Adam that God 
wanted him to repent and opened the door thereto, but 
Adam was too proud to humble himself, and therefore he 
was driven from Paradise. Cain, on the other hand, did 
repent, and therefore at least half his punishment was 
remitted him. The Midrash tells how Adam, meeting Cain, 
asked how his case stood. Upon which Cain replies : 
I repented and the matter is settled (I have been forgiven). 
Adam struck his face with amazement and said, I did not 
know that the power of repentance was so great. He at 
once composed and recited the ninety-second psalm : " It is 
good to confess (nnin?) unto the Lord ^." 

Of Abraham, on the other hand, we are told that he was 
appointed to lead the whole world to repentance. The 
meaning of this statement seems to be that Abraham 
is regarded as the great proselyte and proselyte-maker. 
He was therefore the first to lead men away from the 
falsehood and sin of idolatry into the purity and rectitude 
of monotheistic belief Commenting upon the story of 
Abraham's vision in the night, the Midrash observes that 
Abraham was at first unable to drive the birds of prey 
from the carcass, but finally succeeded in doing so through 
repentance. Here the birds are regarded as a type of the 
persecutions from which the Israelites would have to suffer ^. 

The next Biblical character connected with repentance is 
Reuben. He repented of his part in the plot against 
Joseph, and God said to him: "Not till now has a man 
sinned before me and repented ; thou art the first who has 
repented, therefore thy descendant shall be the first to 

' Tanehuma »nin ; Bemidbar Kabba, xiii. § 3 ; Bereshit Rabba, xxii. ad fin. ; 
Mid. Tehillim on Ps. c. (2) ; Vayikra R., x. § 5. In the last place the Cain 
story is used as an illustration in the argument between R. Jehuda 
and R. Joshua b. Levi, of whom the former asserts that repentance does 
half and prayer does all, while the latter said that prayer does half and 
repentance does all. 

* Bereshit R., xxx. § 9, xliv. § 17. 


summon the Israelites to repentance. Thou wouldst 
have brought back the beloved son to his father: thy 
descendant shall bring back the Israelites to their father in 
heaven ^" This descendant was Hosea. It was the tribe 
of Reuben who encamped on the south side, for from the 
south come dew and rain, and Reuben is the typical 
penitent, and through the worth of repentance rain falls 
upon the earth. Judah is the type of the Law, and therefore 
Judah set forth first ; Reuben is the type of repentance and 
therefore Reuben set forth second, for repentance is (only) 
second (in importance) to the Law. Elsewhere the large 
offering of the " prince of the children of Reuben " (Num. 
vii. 30-35) is said to be typical of, or to correspond with, 
Reuben's repentance when Joseph was sold, for repentance, 
it is characteristically added, is equivalent to aU the 
sacrifices of the Law ^. 

In the same Midrash an eccentric remark is made about Ba- 
laam. The reason why he said to the angel " I have sinned," 
was because he knew that if a man sins and confesses, the 
angels have no power to hurt him ^. The subject of repent- 
ance is also referred to in connexion with the golden calf, 
but I have noticed nothing worth quotation, except perhaps 
the odd idea of R. Joshua b. Levi that the Israelites only 
made the calf, just as David only committed the sin with 
Bathsheba and Uriah, in order to encourage sinnera to 
become penitents and to return to God. Thus if an 
individual sin, one can say : " even as David repented, so 
do thou repent;" and if a community sin, one can say: 
" even as Israel repented, so do thou repent *." Elsewhere 
also David is regarded as an example for penitents and 
sinners. It was he who said to God, " You are a great God, 
and my sins are great. It beseems the great God to pardon 

' The first penitent is variously named by different Rabbis as Cain, 
Abraham, Reuben, &c. 

■' Bereshit R., Ixxxiv. § 19 ; Bemidbar R., ii. § 10, iii. § la (on Num. ii. 
9, 16), xiii. § 18 ; Pesikta K., 159 b. 

' Bemidbar R, xx, § 15. 

* Shemot R., i. § 36; Bemidbar, xx. § 20; Sanfaedrin, 7 a ; Aboda Zarah, 4 b. 


great sins." " Let every one who has sinned look at David ; 
for it is said, Behold, for a witness to the peoples I have 
appointed him." " David said to God, If thou receivest me, 
then sinners will submit to thee, and they will look at me, 
and 1 shall be a witness that thou receivest the penitent." 
Playing upon and mispunctuating a verse in Samuel 
(2 Sam. xxiii. i), a Rabbi says of David that he set up " the 
yoke of repentance ^." 

In many passages Jehoiachin or Coniah is pointed to as 
a salient example of the power of repentance in cancelling 
the divine oath and decree. For Jeremiah said, " As I live, 
saith the Lord, write ye this man childless," whereas in 
Chronicles we are told of his sons^. 

But the penitent whose story is most frequently quoted, 
and who is most often used to point the moral, is Manasseh. 
Manasseh was the worst of all the kings of Judah, and yet 
he repented, and his repentance was accepted. For when 
the wicked king was carried to Babylon, bound in fetters 
and chains, and thrown, according to the legend, into a fiery 
furnace, he called upon all the gods of the world to whom 
he had sacrificed, and none made answer. " Then he called 
upon God, and said, Lord, I have called upon all the gods 
of the world, and now I have realized that they are things 
of naught. Thou art the God of gods : if Thou dost not 
hearken to me, I shall think that Thou and they are as one. 
Then the angels arose, and stopped up all the windows 
of heaven, and they said. Wilt Thou, O Lord, accept the 
repentance of a man who set up an idol in the very temple 
itself 1 But God replied, If I accept him not in his repent- 
ance, I shut the door upon all penitents. Wherefore God 
bored a hole under the throne of his glory, and received 
Manasseh's prayer." Elsewhere it is said, " If a man comes 
and says, God does not receive the penitent, then Manasseh 
will bear witness that there was no worse man in the world 

' Vayikra R., v. ad fin. ; Mid. Tehillim on Ps. xl. (2), li. (3) ; Aboda Zarah, 
5 a ; Moed Katon, 16 b. 
« Vayikra R., x. § 5 ; Pesikta K., 163 


than he, and yet in the hour of his repentance God re- 
ceived him." In a famous section of Mishnah Sanhedrin, 
it is stated that Manasseh is one of the three kings 
who have no share in the -world to come. But E. Jehuda 
said that Manasseh has his portion in the world to come, 
while R. Jochanan averred that " to deny such a portion 
to Manasseh is to make the hands of all penitents be 

As the Jews have been often said to be very ready to 
criticize themselves while objecting to criticism from others, 
so we find some shrewd sayings about their history in 
connexion with our own particular subject. Thus we are 
told that Pharaoh's pursuit had a greater effect upon the 
Israelites than a hundred fast days and endless prayers. 
For in their fear they looked up to God and repented of their 
sins. And frequently it is said that sufferings or chastise- 
ments have been the means of Israel's repentance. The 
nation is compared to an olive, the oil of which is produced 
by beating. So repentance is brought about by suffering. 
Not till the Israelites are brought so low that they eat the 
fruit of the oarob, do they repent before God. For poverty 
adorns the Jew as a red rein adorns a piebald horse ^. 
Hence, too, the many passages about suffering being 
beloved, both because through sufferings Israel has received 
precious gifts, and because suffering is the best atonement 
for sin ^. 

On the other hand, as we have already partly seen, God 
is represented as the loving father of Israel who hates to 
punish and longs to save. Eabbi Meir said, "Israel is 
God's son who has been driven away by his pride and sin- 
fulness from his father's house (i. e. Palestine) ; but the son 

' Bemidbar Rabba, xiv. § i ; Midrash Ruth, v. § 6 ; Debarim R., ii. § so ; 
Pesikta K., i6a a j Sanhedrin, 90 a, 103 a ; Jer. Sanhedrin, 28 c (Schwab, 
xi. p. 50), &c. 

» Shemot R., xxi. § 5, xxxvL § i ; Megilla, 14 a ; Eclia R. on iv. aa ; Shir 
R. on i. 3 ; Vayikra R., xiii. § 4. 

' Cf. Mid. Tehillim on Ps. xciv. (a), csvUi. (16). 


will repent and be restored ^." Sometimes, but much more 
rarely, and only in contrast to the nations, Israel is depicted 
as specially susceptible to the gracious goodness of God. 
Only once or twice have I noticed a desire to extol the 
Rabbi or the student of the law. Thus we find it said that 
if you have seen a Rabbi commit a sin at night time, you 
may be sure that he has repented of it by the following 
day. And Akiba declared that as vessels of gold and 
crystal when broken can be mended, so for the student of 
the law (moral) repair is still possible. But in another 
place the very same thing is said of man generally : " Let 
not a man say, ' Because I have sinned, no repair is possible 
for me,' but let him trust in God, and repent and God will 
receive him '■*." The ordinary view seems to be that it is 
only through divine encouragement and help, as well as 
through the gracious ordinance of the Day of Atonement, 
that Israel and the individual Israelite find their way to 

It cannot be denied that the particularism of the Rabbis 
and of the Rabbinical religion is often apparent in their 
doctrine of Teshubah. So far from the common charge 
being true that their God was distant, we may rather say 
that he was sometimes too near, or more accurately : the 
real and true God, as we now conceive him, in his loving 
relations to all mankind, was by the Rabbis restricted in 
large measure to Israel. 

Thus in one place we find the Israelites likened to the 
angelic hosts. As they, according to the popular legend, 
are "renewed day by day, and return, after they have 
praised God, to the fire from which they issued, so too the 
Israelites, if their evil passions ensnare them in sin, and 
they repent, are forgiven by God year by year and granted 
a new heart with which to fear him." Nebuchadnezzar 

* Bacher, Agada der Tannaiien, II, p. 35 ; cf. .ler. Taanith, 3 a (Schwab, 
VI, 142-144). 

' Berachoth, 19 a ; Chaggigah, 15 a ; Mid. Tehillim on Ps. xl. (3). Th§ 
word translated by " repair" is ropn. 


told his general that the God of the Jews receives the 
penitent; therefore, "when they are conquered, give them 
no opportunity to pray, lest they repent and their God 
have pity upon them ^." 

God, then, is ever on the watch, eager for Israel's repent- 
ance. " It all depends upon you," he tells them. " My part 
I am always ready to perform." But more than that, God 
is represented as showing a certain special leniency to the 
Israelites. A Rabbi said : " If one may venture to say so, 
though with God is no forge tfulness, yet because of the 
Israelites he is forgetful. If the scales of a man's virtues 
and sins are equal, God removes one of the sins and makes 
the scale incline toward mercy." I do not find it definitely 
said that he only does this for the Israelites, but the 
context in which these passages occur renders it likely 
that this qualification is implied ^, 

The Midrash refers occasionally to the Gentiles when it 
touches on repentance. Thus it says that God let the seven 
days of mourning for the pious Methuselah pass by before 
he brought on the flood, to see if the inhabitants of the 
world would repent, but they would not. Similarly 
a chance of repentance was given to the tower builders 
of Babel, and even to the Sodomites, but it was not used. 
One Rabbi declares : " God does not desire to condemn any 
creature. When his creatures sin and provoke him, and 
he is angry with them, what does the Holy One do ? He 
seeks an advocate for them to plead for their merit and he 
opens a path before the advocate. Thus, when the Sodom- 
ites sinned, he revealed to Abraham to plead for their 
merit .... God warned the men of Sodom for fifty-two 
years, and shook the mountains over them, that they might 
repent." Elsewhere it is said "that God is 'glorious in 
power ' (Exod. xv. 7) because he granted respite to the 

' Shemot R., xv. § 6 ; Echa R. on v. 5. 

' PesiktaK., p. 167 a; of. Jer.Kiddushin, i. fin. (Schwab, ix. pp.337, 238); 
Jer.Peah, 4b (Schwab,,3i)and Jer. Taanith, 3 a (Schwab, vi. 144) with 
its particularistic intei'pretation of Isa. xxi. la. 


generation of the deluge, and to the men of the Tower and 
to the Sodomites to repent, but they would not. Even at 
the last, had the Sodomites repented, God would have 
rained upon them (only) rain, but as they refused, he rained 
sulphur and fire." In one passage, which reappears with 
modifications in more than one Midrash, the nations are 
credited with a greater readiness to repentance than the 
Israelites. One of the reasons, we are told, why Jonah 
shirked executing God's message to Nineveh, was because 
he feared that the repentance of the Ninevites would not 
only secure their forgiveness, but assure God's anger against 
Israel. Jonah thought : " The nations are ready to repent 
at once, and God will be angry with Israel and say, The 
nations to whom I gave no statutes repent forthwith, when 
I issue a decree against them, whereas with Israel it is not so, 
for I frequently send them my prophets, but they continue 
stiff-necked^." And we find the saying, "God waits for 
all the peoples of the world, if haply they will repent 
and come under his wings." 

More usual, however, is the thought of which, for example, 
we have an instance where it says, " If thou repent, God will 
lift up his countenance to thee, — to thee, that is, and not to 
another nation." The attitude of the persecuted to the persC" 
cutors, not unnatural, yet not the highest of which mankind 
is capable, is faithfully reflected in the following passage. 
Commenting on Canticles viii. 8, " We have a little sister," 
which it interprets of Israel, the Midrash remarks : " Rabbi 
Azariah said in the name of R. Jehuda bar Simon, The 
patron angels of the nations will accuse the Israelites 
before God and say. Lord of the world, like other nations 
the Israelites have committed idolatry and unchastity and 
have shed innocent blood. Why then do they not, like 
the other nations, descend into hell 1 Because, replies God, 
they are to me as a little sister. As one forgives a little 
child whatever it does, because it is little, so it is with 

' Tanchuma, tnp'i (ed. Lublin, 1879, Part II, p. ii) ; Mechilta, i b ; 
Pirke K. Eliezer, x. 


the Israelites. However much they pollute themselves by 
their sins throughout the year, the Day of Atonement 
brings them forgiveness ^." 

It is not easy to assess at its real moral and religious 
worth or unworth the particularism of the Rabbis. 
Undoubtedly they believed that the very large majority 
of those who would enjoy the blessedness of the world 
to come would be Israelites, just as, I suppose, up till 
modem times, the various sects of Christianity have 
believed that the very large majority of heaven's in- 
habitants would be themselves. Yet the partiality or 
particularism of the Rabbinic literature is somehow very 
unlike the arid and wholly disagreeable particularism of 
some of the apocalyptic and pseud-epi graphic writings. It is 
more naive and less virulent. However wrong and unjust 
it may be, it somehow partakes of the general superiority 
of the Rabbinical over the Apocalyptic literature. It would 
be unfair to say that the particularism of the Rabbis marks 
a recurrence to the old pre-prophetic point of view. In the 
pre-prophetic period Yahweh is not yet wholly moralized : 
he is frankly the God of Israel who must protect his own. 
Israel's victories are his ; so too are Israel's defeats. To 
the prophets, though Yahweh is in a special sense the God 
of Israel, for that very reason Israel must be punished for 
his sins, and Israel's fall is Yahweh's ti'iumph. With the 
Rabbis, God is once more partial, but, if one may say so, 
it is a moralized partiality. Excuses and justifications are 
sought for it. Nor can it be said, in spite of passages such 
as the one last quoted, that the Rabbinic conception of 
God's relation to Israel is in itself, and apart from its 
contrast with his relation to the "nations," immoral or 
crudely partial. The wilder statements of the Midrash and 
the Talmud must be taken with a grain of salt, and the 
conflicting ones balanced against each other. God eagerly 

' Bereshit R., xxxii. § 7 ; xxxviii. § 9 ; xlix. § 6 ; Bemidbar E., x. § i ; 
Tanchuma, section kti on Gen. xix. i and section ubv}! on Exod. xv. la ; 
Mechilta, 38 a (ed. Friedmann) ; Pesikta K., 156a; Mid. Shir on viii. 8. 


accepts Israel's repentance: he helps the Israelites to 
repent : he grieves for their sorrows and their sins ; he is 
anxious to redeem them. But, at the same time, we have 
seen that he is not only the God of mercy, but also the God 
of justice. The unrepentant sinner is condemned by him, 
and if the sinner persist in his sin, repentance is likely to be 
unattainable. God is longsuffering both to the good and to 
the wicked, though among the reasons given for this attri- 
bute of his are some which hardly appeal to us to-day^. 
Yet on the whole we may, I think, say that the Eabbinic 
conception of God's relation to Israel is what the modern 
believer in God conceives to be the relation of God to man. 
The prayers which are offered up to God from the orthodox 
Jewish prayer-book are such as might be offered up in any 
modern Theistic church, if for Israel we, in many places, 
substitute mankind. " Thou who openest thy hand to 
repentance, to receive transgressors and sinners, whose 
right hand is stretched out to receive the penitent "—such 
an invocation is purely human ^. We may even go a little 
further. For it should in fairness be said that, on the whole, 
the liturgy of the synagogue is rather markedly free from 
definite and irreligious particularism. There are also in- 
cluded in it prayers of a strongly universalistic tinge, and 
it is noteworthy that such prayers find a prominent place 
upon the New Year and upon the Day of Atonement. Thus, 
for instance, we read : — 

Now, therefore, Lord our God, impress thine awe upon all thy 
works, and thy dread upon all that thou hast created, that all works 
may fear thee, and all creatures prostrate themselves before thee, 
that they may all form a single hand to do thy will with a perfect 
heart, even as we know, Lord our God, that dominion is thine, 
strength is in thy hand, and might in thy right hand, and that thy 
name is to be feared above all that thou hast created. 

A prayer which was originally composed for the New 

' Cf.the pretty argument between God and Moses, Sanhedrin, ma, but 
also Pesikta K., 161 b. 

^ Singer's Prayer-book, p. 61. These prayers are very old. 


Year service has now become incorporated into the liturgy 
for every day : — 

We, therefore, hope in thee, Lord our God, that we may 
speedily behold the glory of thy might, when thou wilt remove the 
abominations from the earth, and the idols will be utterly cut off, 
when the world will be perfected under the kingdom of the Almighty, 
and all the children of flesh will call upon thy name, when thou wilt 
turn unto thyself all the wicked of the earth. Let all the inhabitants 
of the world perceive and know that unto thee every knee must bow, 
every tongue must swear. Before thee, Lord our God, let them 
bow and fall ; and unto thy glorious name let them give honour ; let 
them all accept the yoke of thy kingdom, and do thou reign over them 
speedily, and for ever and ever. For the kingdom is thine, and to all 
eternity thou wilt reign in glory ; as it is written in thy Law, The 
Lord shall reign for ever and ever \ 

Summing up the evidence thus far presented, we may 
fairly assert that the Rabbinic teaching about repentance is 
closely akin to that Jewish teaching of the latter end of 
the nineteenth century, A. c, to which I referred at the 
beginning of this Address. The main differences are first, 
that, as we have seen, the Rabbinic doctrine is, on the whole, 
particularist, while the modern teaching is pronouncedly 
universalist, and secondly, that the Rabbis are sterner 
towards the sinner, especially towards the religious sinner, — 
the heretic, the apostate, the unbeliever. Lastly, whereas 
according to the modem teaching, all punishment after death 
can only be remedial and temporary, the Rabbis held that 
for some sinners there was no share whatever in the 
blessedness of the world to come I 

Yet for the average Israelite of the Rabbinic period the 
doctrines of Repentance, of the mercy and lovingkindness 
of God, and of the Atonement Day, sufficed to make his 

' Singer's Prayer-book, pp. 339, 247. 

" Some Kabbis taught eternal punishment ; others, annihihttion. There 
are some curious and difficult passages relating to these matters in 
connection with repentance. Of. Mid. Koheleth on ix. 4 ; Jer. Berachoth, 
ix (Schwab, I, p. 156) ; Pesikta B., 198 b ; Rosh Ha-Shanah, 16 b, 17 a. 


outlook upon life — apart from questions of persecution 
and martyrdom — one of cheerfulness and confidence. 
From the ' sea of the Talmud ' everyone can draw deduc- 
tions and find passages to suit his taste and his theory. It 
is therefore quite possible to quote stories or sentences 
which seem to indicate a condition of mistrust, of uncer- 
tainty, and of terror. But these stories and sentences are 
the exception and not the rule. It would be quite as 
erroneous to regard them as proving the prevailing temper 
of the Rabbinic creed, as it would be to quote the occa- 
sional sentences which make for toleration and univer- 
salism and to declare that these are the characteristic 
teachings of the Talmud. Both errors have been frequently 
committed by the friends and the foes of the Rabbinic 
religion : both are equally objectionable and unscientific. 

But a puzzle remains to which I can only draw 
attention, but which I am unable to solve. There are 
pai*ts of the Day of Atonement liturgy which suggest 
an attitude of gloom and apprehension. But from the 
Mishnah onward— and we must remember that the words 
of the Mishnah are older than the completed code — the 
prevailing religious attitude of the Jew is hopeful. His 
God is a God of mercy, and though to sin is human, no less 
human is repentance, and the most essential attribute of 
God is forgiveness. The Talmud itself calls attention to this 
characteristically Jewish point of view. " It is the custom," 
it observes, " among men when they appear before a court 
of justice to put on black clothes, and to let the beard grow 
long because of the uncertainty of the issue. Israelites do 
not act so : on the day when the judgment opens (the New 
Year), they are clad in white, and shave their beards, they 
eat and drink and rejoice in the conviction that God will 
do wonders for them ^." True repentance will turn voluntary 
sins into involuntary errors, and the stain of involuntary 
errors the Day of Atonement will wash away'-'. The 

' Jer. Rosh Ha-Shanah, i. a (Schwab, VI, p. 65). 
" Yoma, 36 b, 86 b. 


Mishnah declares in the most solemn manner that every 
Israelite, with certain specified exceptions, will have a share 
in the world to come. But when we turn from the 
Eabbinic to the Apocalyptic literature a different temper 
seems to prevail. There, if confidence exists, it is rather 
an arid pride of race than the justified hope of those 
who believe in a merciful God and in the efficacy and 
possibility of repentance. And when this unethical con- 
fidence is wanting, we find an anxiety and a mistrust 
utterly removed from and unfamiliar to the true Rabbinic 
religion. In the fourth book of Ezra, which is not so many 
years anterior to the Mishnah, the teaching is that many 
are " lost " and few are " saved." Instead of cheerful hope, 
there prevails a spirit of gloom and despair. The author 
of the Epistle to the Romans would seem to have been 
filled with such a spirit before his conversion, or at any 
rate to regard it as a logically justified condition of mind 
for those who do not yet believe in the atoning death and 
resurrection of Christ, or for those who rejected these newer 
doctrines and clung to the older teachings of the Law 
and of the Prophets. Whence comes this strange difference 
of belief and of attitude between the Apocalyptic and the 
Rabbinic literature, between the fourth book of Ezra and 
St. Paul on the one hand, and the Mishnah upon the other ? 
Does this difference partly account for the fact that the 
apocalyptic and pseud-epigraphic writings have not survived 
in Hebrew, and that the Rabbis seem to have regarded 
them as off the true line of tradition and as heretical ? 
The complete solution of this puzzle is still to seek. 

Meanwhile, the Rabbinic cheerfulness has remained 
a characteristic of Judaism till the present day, and the 
doctrine of Repentance is one of its causes. Though 
Rabbinic and mediaeval Jews were in one sense particularist, 
in another sense they were universalist. The theory of 
repentance helped them to keep clear of the gloomy 
doctrines of election and reprobation. The Fourth Gospel 
knows nothing of repentance, because it divides the world 


into children of light and children of darkness. From such 
teachings legal Judaism kept free. And this it partly 
owed to its doctrine of Repentance. Not unwisely, then, 
did the Rabbinic doctors declare, " There is nothing gieater 
than repentance : repentance is second to the Law^." 


[For many suggestions, for much material, and for revision and 
correction of the whole Address, I am deeply indebted to my friend 
Mr. Israel Abrahams.] 

' Bebarim R., ii. § 24 init. ; Bemidbar R., ii. § 10.