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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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The noun occurs only in post-Biblical literature, but it is derived from the vocabulary of the Bible. Maimonides' dictum, "All the prophets preach repentance" ("Yad," Teshubah, 7:5), echoes the opinion of Talmudic authority (Ber. 34b).

— Biblical Data:
In Biblical as well as post-Biblical literature repentance is postulated as the indispensable condition on which the salvation and redemption of the people of Israel, as well as of every individual man, depend (Genesis 4:7 Leviticus 4 , v. Deuteronomy 4:30 , 30:2 1 Kings 8:33,48 Hosea 14:2 Jeremiah 3:12 , 31:18 , 36:3 Ezekiel 18:30-32 Isaiah 54:22 , 55:6-10 Joel 2:12 Jonah 2:10 ).

Scope and Function.
The full meaning of repentance, according to Jewish doctrine, is clearly indicated in the term "teshubah" (lit. "return" from the verb ). This implies: (1) All transgression and sin are the natural and inevitable consequence of man's straying from God and His laws (comp. Deuteronomy 11:26-28 Isaiah 1:4 Jeremiah 2:13 , 16:11 Ezekiel 18:30 ). (2) It is man's destiny, and therefore his duty, to be with God as God is with him. (3) It is within the power of every man to redeem himself from sin by resolutely breaking away from it and turning to God, whose loving-kindness is ever extended to the returning sinner. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isaiah 55:7 comp. Jeremiah 3:12 Ezekiel 18:32 Joel 2:13 ). (4) Because "there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not" (Ecclesiastes 7:20 1 Kings 8:46 ), every mortal stands in need of this insistence on his "return" to God.

Manifestations of Repentance.
The Mosaic legislation distinguishes between offenses against God and offenses against man. In the first case the manifestation of repentance consists in: (1) Confession of one's sin before God (Leviticus 5:5 Numbers 5:7 ), the essential part of which, according to rabbinical interpretation (Yoma 87b Maimonides, l.c. 1:1), is the solemn promise and firm resolve not to commit the same sin again. (2) The offering of the legally prescribed sacrifice ( Leviticus 5:1-20 ). Offenses against man require, in addition to confession and sacrifice, restitution in full of whatever has been wrongfully obtained or withheld from one's fellow man, with one-fifth of its value added thereto (Leviticus 5:20-26 ). If the wronged man has died, restitution must be made to his heir if he has no heir, it must be given to the priest who officiates at the sacrifice made for the remission of the sin (Numbers 5:7-9 ).

Prophetic Conception.
Other manifestations of repentance mentioned in the Bible are: pouring out water (1Samuel 7:6 according to the Targum symbolizing the pouring out of one's heart before God comp. Yer. Ta' an. 68d Midr. Teh. cxix. Lamentations 2:19 ) prayer (2Samuel 12:16 ) self-affliction, as fasting, tearing the upper garment, and wearing sackcloth sitting and sleeping on the ground (IKings 21:27 Joel 2:13 Jonah 3:5 Nehemiah 9:1 ). The Prophets disparaged all such outer manifestations of repentance, insisting rather on a complete change of the sinner's mental and spiritual attitude. They demanded a regeneration of the heart, i.e. , a determined turning from sin and returning to God by striving after righteousness. "O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and return unto the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and accept us graciously: so will we render as bullocks the offerings of our lips" (Hosea 14:1-2 , Hebr.). "Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy, and repenteth him of the evil" (Joel 2:13 , R. V.). "Cast away from you all your transgressions whereby ye have transgressed and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 18:31 comp. Psalm 51 and Jeremiah 24:7 ).

— Rabbinical View:

All that the Bible teaches of repentance has been greatly amplified in rabbinical literature. Repentance is of paramount importance to the existence of this world, so that it was one of the seven provisions which God made before the Creation (Pes. 54a Ned. 39b Gen. R. 1: Holy One, blessed be His name, said to Elijah, ' Behold, the precious gift which I have bestowed on my world: though a man sinneth again and again, but returneth in penitence, I will receive him' " (Yer. Sanh. 28b). "Great is repentance: it brings healing into the world" "it reaches to the throne of God" (comp. Hosea 14:2,5 ) "it brings redemption" (comp. Isaiah 59:20 ) "it prolongs man's life" (comp. Ezekiel 18:21 Yoma 86a, b). "Repentance and works of charity are man's intercessors before God's throne" (Shab. 32a). Sincere repentance is equivalent to the rebuilding of the Temple, the restoration of the altar, and the offering of all the sacrifices (Pesiḳ ., ed. Buber, 25:158 Lev. R. vii. Sanh. 43b). Sincere repentance is manifested when the same temptation to sin, under the same conditions, is ever after resolutely resisted (Yoma 86b "Yad," Teshubah, 2:1-2). "He that confesses his sin and still clings to it is likened to a man that holds in his hand a defiling object though he batheth in all the waters of the world he is not cleansed but the moment he casteth the defiling object from him a single bath will cleanse him, as it is said ( Proverbs 28:13 ): ' Whoso confesseth and forsaketh them [his sins] shall have mercy' " (Ta' an. 16a "Yad," l.c. 2:3).

Prerequisite of Atonement.
Repentance is the prerequisite of all atonement (Yoma 8:8 "Yad," l.c. 1:1). The Day of Atonement derives its great significance only from the fact that it is the culmination of the ten penitential days with which the Jewish religious year begins and therefore it is of no avail without repentance (Yoma 8:8 Sifra, Emor, xiv.). Though man ought to be penitent every day (Ab. 2:10 Shab. 153a), the first ten days of every year are the acceptable time announced by the prophet ( Isaiah 55:6 ): "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near" (R. H. 18a "Yad," l.c. 2:6). Repentance and the Day of Atonement absolve from sins against God from sins against our fellow man they absolve only when restitution has been made and the pardon of the offended party has been obtained (Yoma 87a "Yad," l.c. 2:9).

No man need despair on account of his sins, for every penitent sinner is graciously received by his heavenly Father and forgiven. "The Holy One, blessed be His name, said to Jeremiah: ' Go, tell Israel that they return.' Jeremiah told them. Said Israel:' With what countenance shall we come before God? Are not these hills and mountains, on which we served other gods, standing there? We are overwhelmed with shame.' Jeremiah brought back to God what they had said. Again God said to Jeremiah: ' Go, tell them, if ye return to me, do ye not return to your Father in heaven? As it is said, "For I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born"' " (Jeremiah 31:9 Pesiḳ ., ed. Buber, 25:165). Nor is it ever too late, even on the day of death, to return to God with sincere repentance (Ḳ id. 40b "Yad," l.c. 2:1), for "as the sea is always open for every one who wishes to cleanse himself, so are the gates of repentance always open to the sinner" (Pesiḳ ., ed. Buber, 25:157 Deut. R. ii. Midr. Teh. lxiii.), and the hand of God is continually stretched out to receive him (Pes. 119a Deut. R. 2: the repentant sinner attains a more exalted spiritual eminence than he who has never sinned (Ber. 34b "Yad," l.c. 7:4). It is therefore a grievous sin to taunt the repentant sinner by recalling his former sinful ways (B. M. 58b "Yad," l.c. 7:8).

Bibliography : Maimonides, Yad, Teshubah Hamburger, R. B. T. 1:201, 2:96 Bacher, Ag. Index, s.v. Busse (Rana). K. M. Schl.

Power of Teshubah.
In Biblical Hebrew the idea of repentance is represented by two verbs— "shub" (to return) and "niḥ am" (to feel sorrow comp. Job 42:6 , "I . . . repent in dust and ashes," and Joel 2:14 , "he will return and repent")— but by no substantive. The underlying idea has been adequately expressed in Greek by μ ε τ ά ν ο ι α , a word which denotes "change of mind and heart." The idea, however, is peculiarly Jewish, so much so that its ethical force is lost in the Christian dogma of the atoning Christ (see the note of Franz Delitzsch quoted by Montefiore in "J. Q. R." 16:212). In fact, where Paulinism speaks of a "saving grace" of God through Christ (see Saul of Tarsus ), Judaism emphasizes the redeeming power of teshubah, which is nothing else than man's self-redemption from the thraldom of sin. Wisdom says, "Evil pursueth sinners" (Proverbs 13:21 ) Prophecy says, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20 ) but the Holy One, blessed be He, says, "Let the sinner repent and he will be pardoned" (Yer. Mak. 2:31d Pesiḳ . 158a).

The entire history of mankind is accordingly viewed by the Rabbis in the light of repentance. "God waits for every sinner, be he as wicked as Pharaoh, until he repents" (Ex. R. 9:9 , 12:1 ) He waits also for the heathen nations (Cant. R. 5:16 Weber's "Jü dische Theologie" [p. 67] misrepresents the facts). God waited before He destroyed the generation of the Flood, the generation of the builders of the Tower of Babel, the men of Sodom, and the Egyptians, giving them time to repent (Mek., Beshallaḥ , Shirah, 5 Gen. R. 32:10 , 38:13 , 49:10-11 Wisdom of Solomon 12:10-20 ). So God sent Abraham to lead the heathen world to repentance (Gen. R. 30:5 ) and the Messiah, according to one rabbi, is called "Hadrak" because he shall lead all mankind to repent of their sins before God (Song of Song of Solomon 7:5 , with reference to Zechariah 9:1 ).

Preachers of Repentance.
"All the prophets were preachers of repentance" (comp. Jeremiah 4:1 Isaiah 55:6 ), "but Hosea was most emphatic and persuasive" (Pesiḳ . R. 44). Noah preached repentance to the generation of the Flood (Sanh. 108a), and in the Sibyllines (i:125-281) he is especially represented as "the preacher of repentance" (κ ή ρ υ ξ μ ε τ ά ν ο ί α ς ) to the corrupt heathen world. Possibly the Greek and the Latin versions of Ben Sira (xliv:16) have preserved the original form. "Enoch was a teacher of repentance to the heathen" (comp. Wisdom of Solomon 4:10 ), although Philo ("De Abrahamo," § 3) speaks of him as "a type of repentant sinner who changed from a worse to a better mode of life" (comp. Gen. R. 25: similar tradition, preserved only in Christianized and Mohammedanized forms (Vita Adæ et Evæ , 2:15-22 Koran, surah 7:57-76), regarded all the predecessors and successors of Noah as preachers of repentance to their generations. Moses also preached repentance, promising the people redemption upon the condition that they would repent (Philo, "De Execrationibus," § § 8-9 Pesiḳ . R. 44, with reference to Deuteronomy 30:2-3 comp. Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob ad loc. ).

Great Types of Repentance.
All the great sinners in the Bible are presented in the Haggadah as types of repentance. Not Adam, who tried to cover his transgressions (Genesis 3:12 )and did not forthwith repent, but Cain, who confessed and forsook his evil way (Genesis 4:13-16 ) not Saul, who tried to cover his sin (1Samuel 15:14 ), but David, who confessed and forsook sin (2Samuel 12:13 ), obtained mercy (Midr. Teh. c., with reference to Proverbs 28:13 ). Cain the transgressor was made "a sign" for repentant sinners (Gen. R. xxii.), and through him his father, Adam, learned of the efficient power of repentance (Midr. Teh. l.c. comp. Wisdom of Solomon 10:1 ). Thus Adam is described as a great penitent, devoting himself for weeks, together with Eve, to fasting and doing penance in the waters of Gihon, Tigris, or Jordan (Pirḳ e R. El. xx. Vita Adæ Evæ , 7:6-8). Ishmael likewise was repentant (B. B. 16b Gen. R. xxx.).

Other types of repentance for the haggadist were: Reuben (Pesiḳ . 159b Gen. R. 82:12 , 84:18 comp. Shab. 55b Test. Patr., Reuben, 1) Achan ( Joshua 7:1-20 ), who showed repentants the way by confession (Lev. R., with reference to Psalms 1 . 23) David, who by his his repentance has become a teacher and witness to all repentant sinners (' Ab. Zarah 4b-5a Midr. Teh. xl, 2, 51:3 Tanna debe Eliyahu R. ii.). Ahab is a type of repentance (Yer. Sanh. 10:28b Pesiḳ . 160b) Manasseh is depicted in the oldest Midrash as the typical penitent sinner. Especially significant are his words in the Prayer of Manasses: "Thou, O Lord, . . . hast promised repentance and forgiveness to them that have sinned against Thee, . . . that they may be saved" not "to the just, as to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, which have not sinned against Thee but . . . unto me that am a sinner" (Yer. Sanh. l.c. Sanh. 103a, b Pesixḳ . 162a see Didascalia Manasseh ). Yokaniah (Pesiḳ . 162-163 Lev. R. 10:5 ) and Josiah (Shab. 56b) were repentant sinners. God endeavored to persuade Jeroboam I. to repent, but he refused to do so (Sanh. 101a). However, heathen like Balaam repented (Num. R. 20:15 ) Rahab the harlot became a penitent sinner (Tanna debe Eliyahu Zuṭ a xxii.) and the men of Nineveh became types of repentance (Pesiḳ . 161a). God forgave the people of Israel the sin of the golden calf only that they might teach the world repentance (' Ab. Zarah 4b).

The tannaitic period also had, in Eleazar ben Durdaia, the type of a penitent sinner whose sin and repentence became an object of popular legend (' Ab. Zarah 17b). In the amoraic period such types were furnished by Resh Lakish (Pirḳ e R. El. xliii.), by Abba, the father of R. Jeremiah b. Abba, and by the exilarch ' Uḳ ban b. Nehemiah (Shab. 55b).

Nature of Repentance.
All are encouraged by God to repent excepting him who sins with the intention of repenting afterward (Yoma 8:9 comp. Amon ), or him who persists in his wickedness (Yoma 86b Ex. R. 11:2-3 Midr. Teh. i., end). Repentance is especially useless for him who by his teaching and example has caused others to sin (Ab. 5:26 Sanh. 107b) hence the heavenly voice, "All ye backsliding children repent, except Aḥ er" (Elisha b. Abuyah Ḥ ag. 15a). Gehazi was not allowed to repent (Soṭ ah 47a). As long as man lives he may repent, but there is no repentance after death, only submissive acceptance of God's punitive justice (Eccl. R. 1:15 , 7:15 Pirke R. El. xliii. Ruth R. 1:17 Shab. 32a ' Er. 19a Yalḳ ., Isaiah 26:2 ). Wherefore R. Eliezer said: "Repent one day before death" (Ab. 2:10)— that is, every day (Shab. 153a Eccl. R. 9:8 , where the parable of the wise and foolish servants by R. Johanan b. Zakkai is given in illustration). The righteous repent for every sin they have committed (Ex. R. 23:3 ) the disciple of the wise repents every night for his sin (Ber. 19a Ḥ ag. 75a) so Israel is expected to repent in time in order to inherit the future life (Ex. R. 23:11 ). The heathen, as a rule, do not repent (Pesiḳ . 156a, b) comp. ' Ab. Zarah 3a). "As long as the people are sin-laden they can not be God's children only when they have repented have they in reality become His children" (Sifre, Numbers 112 , with reference to Deuteronomy 33:5 comp. Sifre, Deuteronomy 308 ).

The sinners who have repented are raised and placed among God's hosts (Yalḳ ., Psalm 45 ). Repentance is not an outward act, as Weber ("Jü dische Theologie," p. 261) endeavors to represent it, but an inner cleansing of the heart (Pesiḳ . 161b). It must be perfectly sincere, true contrition, coupled with shame and self-reproach, and confession (Ber. 12b Ḥ ag. 5a Sanh. 43 Pesiḳ . R. 83 Yer. Ta' an. 2:65). A striking picture of such repentance is given by Eleazar b. Durdai' a (' Ab. Zarah 17a). In the same sense repentance is described in Psalms of Song of Solomon 9:6-7 and is dwelt upon, in Wisdom of Solomon 11:23 12:10,19 Book of Jubilees, 5:17. It is well analyzed by Philo, in "De Execrationibus," § 8, as a feeling of shame and self-reproach which leads to a frank and sincere confession and a change of heart and of conduct. "Through it Israel shall be accepted by God their Father and be gathered again from all quarters of the globe, the glory of God marching before them" (comp. Sanh. 97b Tobit 13:6 , 14:6).

In Judaic Christianity.
It is interesting to observe that the call for repentance which was manifested in Essene circles by bathing in water (see Gen. R. 2:5 Yer. Ta' an. 2:65 d comp. Adam's penitence, mentioned above) is voiced in the synoptic Gospels and throughout Judaic Christianity (Matthew 3:2 , 4:17 Mark 1:15 ) in the fourth Gospel and throughout the Pauline writings repentance is superseded by rebirth in faith. In the Catholic Church contrition, confession, and satisfaction become parts of the sacramental act of "pœ nitentia," whereas the Protestant churches follow the Pauline teachings pure and simple (see Herzog-Hauck, "Real-Encyc." s.v. "Busse").

Repentance occupies a very prominent position in all the ethical writings of the Middle Ages. Baḥ ya ibn Paḳ uda devotes a special section to it in his "Ḥ obot ha-Lebabot"— the "seventh gate," called "Gate of Repentance." Maimonides devotes the last section of "Sefer ha-Madda' " and the first book of his "Yad ha-Ḥ azaḳ ah" to the "Rules of Teshubah." Isaac Aboab, in his "Menorat ha-Ma' or," has eighteen chapters concering repentance. No less elaborate are the more mystic writers on the same subject: Eleazar of Worms, in his "Roḳ eaḥ " Isaiah Horwitz, in his "Shene Luḥ ot ha-Berit" Elijah de Vidas, in his "Reshit Ḥ okmah" and others. Some of these chapters were frequently if not regularly read by the pious every year, before or during the penitential day, to prepare the heart for the great Atonement Day.

Bibliography : Bousset, Religion des Judenthums , pp. 368 et seq. Claude Monteflore, Rabbinic Conceptions of Repentance , in J. Q. R. 16:209-257 Weber, Jü dische Theologie , Index. K.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Repentance'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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