In the 1990s, Rabbi Shmuel Tal was a rising star in religious Zionist circles, who eventually founded a network of educational institutions in the Israeli town of Yad Benyamin. At some point, he began asserting that he was in contact with “the Holy Spirit,” and used the authority stemming from this claim to sordid purposes. His behavior eventually led to public condemnation from a prominent rabbi as well as a civil suit, which he lost. But a rabbinic court recently ruled that Tal had repented sufficiently to be allowed to continue to direct religious institutions.
Rabbi Yosef Blau, a prominent American educator who has dealt with similar situations in the United States, examines Tal’s recent statements and finds him to be insufficiently chastened:
After the rabbinic court’s ruling was announced, Tal and his yeshiva responded with ecstatic singing and dancing—though the ruling was not, in fact, a vindication. This was not seen as appropriate for someone who is doing t’shuvah [repentance] for what he had done. Tal then gave a speech explaining that [at present] there are no full totally righteous people and therefore we are all therefore ba’aley t’shuvah [penitents]. The implication is that his leadership continues with his authority intact.
As an outsider to the community, but as one who has been informed that Rabbi Tal’s authority in his community is absolute, [I would say that] any “t’shuvah” that does not change this fact is inherently suspect.
Moses Maimonides discusses at length the power of t’shuvah, as well as the behavior associated with it. It involves serious changes, modifications in one’s style of life. Admitting mistakes, but ignoring damage caused to others and declaring one’s own motivations pure, while arguing that making these mistakes is a reflection of the generation [rather than taking full responsibility] is not consistent with Maimonides’ understanding of repentance.
If acknowledging that asserting inspiration from the Holy Spirit was a mistake does no lead to a willingness to reduce the level of control over an entire community, then the risk of further sin is great. A true ba’al t’shuvah has, at a minimum, learned to modify his self-confidence in claiming total authority.