Jeff Weiss, writing at Politics Daily, quotes me extensively on a Jewish view of forgiveness, especially connected to celebrities who have done wrong.
It’s never hard to find evidence of humanity’s foibles and failures. But boy, howdy, have we had a recent bumper crop in the news: Michael Vick, John Edwards, Rick Pitino, Donte’ Stallworth, Lynette Fromme, Mark Sanford, and on and on and on….
From lead stories in newspapers, websites and broadcasts to the comic strip Doonesbury, the past fortnight has been filled with story after story about celebrity guilt and contrition, followed by a dollop of redemption and rehabilitation.
Do these people deserve a second chance? How do we figure that out?
Pretty much every religion or ethical system worthy of the name spends a lot of effort struggling with these kinds of questions. Let’s dip into some of that struggle to see if we can find any useful answers. Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the president of The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. So how about it, rabbi? Should we forgive any or all of these people?
“Let’s start with a basic premise found in Jewish thought: one can only forgive that which was done to them…This business of people running around forgiving others for what they did to third parties is ridiculous. It probably indicates that those doing all that forgiving are filled with rage at people who actually did nothing to them. They don’t need to forgive them and probably shouldn’t be so angry at them in the first place.”
The whole celebrity outrage thing makes no sense? I get that. But to the extent that someone like Michael Vick realized that his job description included “role model,” whether he wanted it or not, does he deserve some punishment beyond the strictly legal?
“The issue is whether or not people think he has been sufficiently punished. If he has, and if one believes in the law, he has, then he should get a second chance. Does that mean that he should be hired to sell dog food or pet sit, probably not. But should he wander the world like the Biblical Cain (or the one from the old David Carradine/Kung Fu show, “Caine,” for that matter) unable to restart his life because he mistreated his dogs? I don’t think so.”