A Community Al Chet

It’s Yom Kippur! Who’s excited?

Okay, probably not a huge number of us. In any event, I’m back from leading services and giving a talk in Tucson for the Secular Humanist Jewish Circle there, and I wanted to take a quick moment to share a short, humanistic Al Chet I composed for the Rosh Hashanah service in Indianapolis. (Plain-text lines are for the leader of that reading; Italicized lines are read responsively by the rest of the group.)

Let this be our confession.

For the sin I committed against you.

For the sins we’ve committed against one another.

For indifference.
And for interference.

For minor slights.
And for outrageous affronts.

For forgetting.
And for reminding.

For ignoring.
And for pointing out.

Forgive me; pardon me – as I pardon you.

The traditional Al Chet (Chabad’s website has a decent representation/translation) is a prayer recited multiple times during traditional Yom Kippur services, and is often called the “long confession” in comparison to the Ashamnu prayer, which is a shorter text. Sin is the notion of committing an offense against a divine commandment, so the idea of confessing transgressions and asking divine forgiveness just isn’t something Humanistic Judaism does. However, I retained the language of “sin,” because the English text of the Al Chet is familiar to many people, and because we often speak colloquially of sin without imputing any particular religious meaning to the term. The locus of the transgression and the need for forgiveness is, however, entirely placed with the community.

In addition, the specific types of misconduct listed in both the traditional Al Chet and in the Ashamnu are often ones that few people in a community will have committed, and these two prayers in their plain senses impose communal guilt for individual misconduct. Requiring people to accept complicity and guilt for the bad acts of others is an interesting idea, but, again, not one that sits well with an approach to ethics that demands individual moral agency. Instead, this Al Chet focuses on things that members of communities and families do to one another often enough that it’s unlikely any adult or child in the group will not have done at least one of these things.

So, there you have it. I’ll resume regular posting soon–if you’re fasting, I hope you have an easy fast!

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