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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 12.26:
How does one atone for sins?

Answer:

The way in which atonement is achieved is one of the defining characteristics of Judaism. When the temple was still in existance, sins were atoned through offerings and the Jewish court system. Since the Temple was destroyed, a rabbinic system that has focused on prayer has arisen.

The basic philosophy is that for sins against another human, one must atone to that person; for sins against G-d, one must atone to G-d. Typically, the atonement to G-d occurs on the holy day of Yom Kippur, when one prays and repents, and presumably changes one's ways. During this time, one also apologizes to those harmed for any grievences, intended or unintended. Apologies, however, are not enought. There are actually three phases:

  1. Abandoning the sin
  2. Regret
  3. Verbal confession. Thoughts aren't as powerful as hearing yourself vocalize them

Note that, in Jewish thought, any sin can be atoned through severe repentence, without death.

However, there is the notion that true remorse for certain sins (such as murder) can only come with experiencing Yom Kippur, or sometimes even only with death. This is particularly true for those sins that would have been punished by death in the days of a Jewish court system (assuming all the legal details were met). However, that rule isn't hard and fast. Just as we can acheive atonement today without Temple sacrifices, remorse is possible even without death. There is the thought that there are some sins (murder, idolotry, and adultery) that one ought not violate even at risk to your own life. For example, under threat of death, one might eat non-Kosher food; however, if the choice is praying to an idol or death, one is supposed to choose death.


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to questions@scjfaq.org. The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at maintainer@scjfaq.org.

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© (c) 1993-2002 Daniel P. Faigin <maintainer@scjfaq.org>