A Call for National Atonement

Sep. 16, 1998
From the Central Conference of American Rabbis
representing the nation's Reform Jewish rabbinate

At the recent White House Annual Prayer Breakfast for Clergy, President Clinton read a passage from Gates of Repentance, the Reform Jewish prayerbook used at the High Holy Days. It was appropriate because the way Mr. Clinton outlined the process by which he is trying to repent from his transgression suggested parallels to the Jewish steps of t'shuvah, turning to repentance.

This month, Jews throughout the world will share in ten days of penitence, from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Through prayer and reflection, Jews take stock of their lives and repent their misdeeds of the past year.

We invite all Americans, of all religious groups, to join us this year in dedicating this High Holy day period, described in the Bible (Numbers 29:1-11), as a trumpet call to repentance. Let us all set aside the remainder of this month (September 21 - 30) as a National Ten Days of Atonement.

The travails through which President Clinton has taken the country may yet be redemptive if they prompt Americans to confront the ways in which we have given in to our baser urges, been unfaithful to our families and others who count on us, and diverted us from the mission each of us has been called to fulfill.

In this time of atonement, let us all:

  • Turn repentantly to those we have wronged
  • Turn to prayer that we may be strengthened to overcome our destructive instincts
  • Turn to acts of kindness, generosity and healing that we may help transform the suffering of all who have been wronged among the children of God.

T'shuvah demands that we acknowledge our wrongdoings, ask forgiveness from those we have wronged and then commit ourselves to change our behavior so we will not repeat our transgressions in the future. It is only through this process of turning to repentance that Jews can attain forgiveness in the sight of other people and God.


Rabbi Richard N. Levy
Rabbi Paul J. Menitoff
Executive Vice President