The Victimizer's Path to Forgiveness: A Jewish Perspective
Peace, Justice & Development: Essays in Sociology of Law for the 21st Century, Arvind Agrawal & Vittorio Olgiati, eds., Hart Publishing, Forthcoming
21 Pages Posted: 25 Sep 2012 Last revised: 3 Oct 2012
Date Written: September 25, 2012
In some religions, victims have a duty to forgive their victimizers. In Judaism, victims morally may withhold their forgiveness. This empowers the victim. It also allows the victim to burden the victimizer’s path to forgiveness. The victim may create obstacles to peace and reconciliation. The victim feeling power may demand too much from the victimizer or may revel in an unforgiving victimhood. Victimizers should not underestimate the difficulties of the path to forgiveness.
In a world of inequality, the Jewish perspective doesn’t enable victimizations because victims are not required to “turn the other cheek.” In a world of egoism, the Jewish perspective risks reconciliation by enabling an extravagant consciousness of victimization. In a world of identities, the Jewish tradition enables self-consciousness to be structured by unforgiven victimizations.
The Jewish tradition establishes a procedure for the victimizer to take toward forgiveness. After the victimizer has properly performed the procedure, the victim who chooses not to forgive is labeled “cruel.” Informal community sanctions deal with cruel people. Limiting the demands that a victim sets as the condition of granting forgiveness is taught by character edifying stories and principles. The pride of victimhood is cast as denying the changeability of humans, which is an affront to Creation: The transformability of both victim and victimizer is necessary as both are fashioned in G-d’s image.
Peace, then, derives from recognizing the possibility of transformation. This recognition is not taught at the moment of forgiveness or at the time of peace-making, but as part of character development. One must know how to embrace the other and be embraced before one can forgive. But, Judaism teaches, one should not expect too much reconciliation: There will be those who choose to establish their identity by being cruel. And there will be victimizers who choose not to take the path to forgiveness.
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