When Saying Sorry Is Not Enough
Everybody makes mistakes. Goodness knows I've made plenty myself. People who write or speak in public extensively are especially likely to write or say something, at some point, that they should not. In such cases, a retraction and apology is called for. When it is given, people should forgive and forget.
Still, there are mistakes and there are Mistakes. Sometimes people makes mistakes that reveal such appalling judgement, and/or have such potentially devastating consequences, that a simply apology, even a heartfelt one, is not enough. The person to make the error has to take a leave of absence from his or her public role. This does not necessarily entirely erase the damage, but it does show that the person is taking responsibility for it.
The latest such incident, which prompted me to write this post, is Andrew Adler's mindbogglingly stupid editorial in the Atlanta Jewish Times suggesting that the Mossad take out President Obama, and claiming that Israel is already weighing this option.
Watching an interview with Adler in tears, there can be no doubt that he genuinely regrets his mistake. But with a mistake of these dimensions, even a tearful apology is not enough. He had to resign - and he did.
Frankly, I think that there are others who should likewise take a leave of absence from airing their views in public, as a consequence of errors that involve particularly colossal bad judgment and/or have potentially devastating consequences:
Rabbi Dovid Kornreich for publicly suggesting that homosexuals investigate the option of suicide. His subsequent watering down of the suggestion, and his eventual claim that he never really meant it in the first place, are inadequate in light of what he actually wrote.
Rabbi Avi Shafran for his article claiming that Bernie Madoff is more worthy of admiration than Captain Sully, who safely landed his plane in the Hudson, on the grounds that Madoff went beyond what was expected in apologizing, whereas Sully was just doing his job. Rabbi Shafran did apologize, but his apology was somewhat lacking; and even a true apology should not suffice in such a case. Aside from the insanity of even just thinking that it is true, there is also the unbelievable foolishness of putting such a thing in print. Can you imagine if Gawker would have gotten hold of the article? "Prominent Orthodox Spokesman Praises Jewish Swindler, Disses Gentile Hero"?
And most of all: whoever at Ami magazine made the decision to run a cover photoshopped picture of of Nazis marching in front of the White House with swastika-flags hanging from it. What on earth were they thinking?! Even Rabbi Shafran was horrified at that one! Why are they so hesitant about properly apologizing?
Repentance doesn't just mean saying that you're sorry. It means taking responsibility for your mistakes.
(On a related note - I have been very uneasy with some comments that have been submitted lately by radical political right-wingers. I'm still weighing up a formal policy, but if you don't see your comments appear, you now know why.)