Forgiveness is central to Jewish tradition but we must never forget – Professor Joe Goldblatt

In my Jewish tradition, forgiveness is central to our faith.

A rabbi reads from a Torah scroll (Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
A rabbi reads from a Torah scroll (Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Annually on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for our sins, we ask the Almighty and one another to forgive us for or sins committed during the previous year.

Perhaps this is why I was stunned when a senior Arab tourism minister in the Middle East once asked me at the end of a luxurious dinner held high atop a palatial hotel with a revolving restaurant: “Why can you simply not forget about our mistakes in the past?”

I told him that not only did I forgive him, I also wanted him to know that I loved him and his people, after all he had just shared a delicious meal with me and we had become friends over our mutual values.

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I also reminded him that I believed that “it is important to find in one’s heart forgiveness, however, one must also never forget the problems of the past so that they do not reoccur”.

The Arab minister, along with the five wealthy sheikhs seated at our table high atop the desert, lowered their chins and shook their heads from side to side in disbelief.

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Way to atone?

I asked them if they thought it was possible to both remember and forgive? One distinguished gentleman looked across the room to a row of their rifles that had been placed there for safekeeping and said: “Perhaps. However, it is also wise to remember who are your friends and who are your enemies.”

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I then told them that many years earlier a partner had been forced to dissolve a business that I was involved with and that I had lost $1 million because of his mistakes and misjudgement. However, if he walked in to the room where we were dining just now I would rise and greet him with courtesy. The men were further astonished.

Although I believe with all my heart that forgiveness is possible, I also know that throughout human history, those who have failed to remember the atrocities of the past have also failed to potentially help repair the world for generations to come.

Joe Goldblatt is chair of the Edinburgh Interfaith Association and professor emeritus of planned events at Queen Margaret University. To read more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot

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