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In Judaism, we emphasize sincere repentance—incl fully owning harm done & deep transformational work to become the kind of person who makes different choices.

Not forgiveness.

& only the victim can truly forgive.

And sometimes the victim has been murdered.


Of course, a person who has been harmed can always choose to forgive irrespective of whether the perpetrator has done the work of repentance, and those impacted by harm (family of the victim) can forgive as well. It can sometimes be healing & freeing to do so, yes.
But we speak in the language of obligation, & there’s no obligation on the victim of an unrepentant perpetrator, or on other people, to do so. And when harm cannot be truly repaired, there’s no obligation to forgive.
(In fact, if you look at the Talmud, there’s never an obligation to forgive—the famous thing where if you apologize 3 times & if they still don’t forgive the sin is on them” thing is an innovation from Maimonides; and remember there the assumption that the person is doing...
Real, sincere, deep, transformative repentance work, according to all his steps, which honestly is not the thing going along with the vast majority of apologies anyway, nb.)
But we don’t ask “why don’t you forgive?” But rather, “you, person who perpetrated harm, what are you doing to own your harm publicly, to understand why you did it and do the work (therapy, education, prayer, rehab, so many other things) to be a different person tomorrow, to...
Make amends to the fullest extent possible, to accept the full consequences of your actions, to apologize (even taking 10 witnesses to the grave of your victim if they are dead to own your harm where they are buried).
The Jewish attitude towards approaching the victim to apologize is further nuanced, in my opinion, by our contemporary understandings of trauma. I think Jewish law generally does an excellent job centering the victim and their needs in our approach. The question of whether...
The victim will be further harmed by the perpetrator’s reaching out is not a trivial one, and I feel on very solid ground in saying that the principle of “if it would harm the victim to reach out the perpetrator should not do so” is entirely congruent with our other principles..
Around repentance. Which doesn’t mean the perpetrator of harm can’t do everything else towards repentance. Including amends work. Including accepting the full consequences of their actions—not defending or rationalizing them, not eg arguing for a reduced sentence.
Which, again, none of this means that direct victims &/or those otherwise impacted cannot forgive. Sometimes it is the right and healing thing to do. Sometimes it is not, and never will be (and that’s ok).But in Judaism, it’s not the question. It’s not where we should be looking.
Is the person who did harm doing the deep, hard moral work of repentance? To what should we be calling them to account (and who, if you have your good power analysis on, should comprise “we” in a given situation? It’s not always everyone’s job).

Shift your focus.
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