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Can I Tweet, Text, or Tumble My Yom Kippur Apology?

It’s not ideal, but it still counts…

Rabbi Sherre Hirsch
September 27, 2017

Amazon Prime same-day delivery is a dinosaur. Now Amazon Dash allows you to push a button and find your favorite products delivered to your doorstep. It is awesome. The truth is that in most areas of our lives we welcome technology. We pray for faster Wi-Fi. We wait weeks in tents to be the first in line for the next iPhone. With every technological advancement, we are reminded that the more efficiency, productivity and convenience, the better.

During this time of forgiveness, I noticed that technology means I no longer have to say ‘sorry’ face to face. I can just insta, snap, text, tweet, or tumble my apologies. But will it count for the wronged? For God? For us?

In the 12th century when Maimonides wrote the Laws of Repentance (the definitive guidebook instructing Jews how to repent), he could have never imagined Uber or Postmates. But in every generation Jews thrive because we are not afraid to ask challenging questions or adapt our Judaism to the ever-changing times.

When I posed this question to students and professionals on campuses around the country (who are never without a smartphone), they grumbled. “It is sacrilegious.” “Don’t you have to be face to face? Shouldn’t you have to confess, feel remorse, take responsibility, apologize and promise not to do it again? Can you do all that on social media?”

But when I pressed, they paused. Maybe there are some circumstances that warrant teshuva by text.

What if you have tried to apologize, but the recipient refused to see or speak to you? Judaism commands us to seek forgiveness not once, not twice, but three times if the person refuses. What if you sent a message via a social media channel (assuming you haven’t been blocked) without expecting a response, but to fulfill your obligation? Maybe this is not ideal, but remember we don’t just ask for forgiveness for the other, we ask also for ourselves. Guilt can become a weapon of self-flagellation and self-pity. Maybe we need this vehicle to let go, and let God forgive us when we cannot forgive ourselves.

What if you posted an apology anonymously? Then it would not be directed at any one person in particular, and those who understand, understand. The Jewish tradition is usually opposed to making blanket statements; teshuva demands specifics. But Judaism also occasionally commands us to lie. (If you see an ugly bride, you are obligated to tell her she is beautiful.) If your confession would hurt an unsuspecting third party (not in a life-threatening way) then Judaism says, don’t confess. Peace between people takes precedence.

Lastly, what if you are too scared to apologize face to face? It takes tremendous courage to see another in pain. The more we love someone, the harder it is to face him or her and admit we were wrong. Watching someone we love suffer sucks. Plus in their presence we must sit in the uncertainty of not knowing whether they will forgive us or not. The anticipation may be intolerable. Wouldn’t a snap or tweet apology be at least a little better?

The purist will always criticize and might say that your apology was not sincere or authentic; you just hit copy and paste, recycled someone else’s sentiments. They might even say you never showed your vulnerability or felt real pain. You could have vetted draft after draft with friends, filtered until it was insta-worthy and served it with a side of a perfect reaction GIF. But aren’t there times in our lives when we feel if we put ourselves entirely out there we may simply fall apart? What if teshuva by text is us—trying our very best—even if the other is not of the same mind?

When Maimonides wrote about the thirteen levels of giving, the ideal form was giving anonymously. But giving even when you were recognized or when you were forced to give still counted as giving. Can’t we make the same argument with regards to forgiveness? Apologizing with contrition face to face is the ideal. Being coerced to say “I am so sorry” is a little less good. Apologizing via social media is not the greatest, but it is still an apology.

Rabbi Sherre Hirsch currently serves as the senior rabbinic scholar for Hillel International. She is the author of “We Plan, God Laughs” and “Thresholds.”