Penitential Prayers Require Penitential Deeds

With the beginning of the current month of Elul, the last of the Jewish calendar year, Sephardim begin reciting daily penitential prayers known as sliḥot; most Ashkenazim will not begin to say them this year until September 17. The central feature of these prayers, which usher in a period of individual and communal repentance that culminates with Yom Kippur, is the repeated recitation of a passage from Exodus 34, known in the rabbinic tradition as “the thirteen attributes of mercy.” In an analysis of the laws and customs of sliḥot and the significance of these scriptural verses, Jacob J. Schacter writes:

[One] idea I want to underscore with regard to the thirteen attributes is that, for many, their real efficacy lies not in merely reciting them, even with the appropriate feelings of heartfelt sincerity, but in acting in accordance with them. Proper sliḥot also require actions and deeds, not just words or thoughts, however meaningfully and sincerely they may be expressed.

For example, in commenting on the few words that conclude and follow the list of the thirteen attributes in the Torah, [the 11th-century Bible commentator] Rashi writes that God absolves only those who repent and not those who do not repent. Clearly some behavior is necessary; mere verbal declaration is insufficient. Immediately prior to codifying the custom of reciting sliḥot [between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur], Rambam, [a/k/a Moses Maimonides, a 12th-century rabbi and philosopher], writes that the custom is that all Jews give a lot of charity, perform many good deeds, and are occupied with mitzvot during these times. This is the first step. Only after drawing attention to these actions does Rambam go on to mention the recital of sliḥot.

For [a number of other rabbinic commentators], it is not enough to say these words; we must, rather, act in accordance with the thirteen attributes of God outlined here: “Just as He is compassionate and merciful, so too should you be compassionate and merciful.” One must act compassionately and mercifully; simply reciting the words is, indeed, no guarantee. This is reminiscent of the famous passage in the Talmud (Sotah 14a; also Shabbat 133b) obligating one to imitate the traits of God outlined in the thirteen attributes, namely, to act in clothing the naked, visiting the sick, comforting the mourners, and burying the dead. The deep profound personal engagement central to sliḥot includes action as well as the recital of words.

Read more at Tradition

More about: Atonement, High Holidays, Judaism, Prayer

Hamas’s Hostage Diplomacy

Ron Ben-Yishai explains Hamas’s current calculations:

Strategically speaking, Hamas is hoping to add more and more days to the pause currently in effect, setting a new reality in stone, one which will convince the United States to get Israel to end the war. At the same time, they still have most of the hostages hidden in every underground crevice they could find, and hope to exchange those with as many Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, planning on “revitalizing” their terrorist inclinations to even the odds against the seemingly unstoppable Israeli war machine.

Chances are that if pressured to do so by Qatar and Egypt, they will release men over 60 with the same “three-for-one” deal they’ve had in place so far, but when Israeli soldiers are all they have left to exchange, they are unlikely to extend the arrangement, instead insisting that for every IDF soldier released, thousands of their people would be set free.

In one of his last speeches prior to October 7, the Gaza-based Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar said, “remember the number one, one, one, one.” While he did not elaborate, it is believed he meant he wants 1,111 Hamas terrorists held in Israel released for every Israeli soldier, and those words came out of his mouth before he could even believe he would be able to abduct Israelis in the hundreds. This added leverage is likely to get him to aim for the release for all prisoners from Israeli facilities, not just some or even most.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security