Manhattan Institute

Year of Atonement

For Harvey Weinstein, the best opportunity for forgiveness will have to wait until 2018.

In keeping with the norms of contemporary culture, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, announced, after allegations of sexual predation against him surfaced in the New York Times, that he would enter therapy. He would deal with his bad behavior, he said, by “finding a way to channel my anger,” perhaps through a movie that would force the resignation of President Trump—an outcome that he would celebrate in a party “at the same place I had my bar mitzvah.” But board members of the Weinstein Company decided that they couldn’t afford to give him such an opportunity—on Sunday, they fired him from the firm he founded.

It’s unfortunate that the Times story came out just after the Jewish High Holiday of Yom Kippur—for that, rather than a new bar mitzvah celebration, offers Weinstein a much better path toward contrition. One wonders whether Weinstein went to synagogue on that recent High Holy Day. If he did, he’d have had the chance to confess, with astounding specificity, to the sins with which he’s been charged—and been given a path to take for redeeming himself.

Consider the prayer known as Al Heit, in which Jews confess the multitude of ways that we may have sinned against God.  The recitation of 44 types of sin has direct relevance to the Weinstein case. It includes, for example, the sin of sexual immorality—sex being understood as a means either to holiness or debasement. It includes the sins not only of “forbidden trysts” but also of “insincere confession,” a category that fits Weinstein’s habit of expressing respect for women in public while pressuring them to watch him take showers in private. It includes the commission of deeds “degrading to our parents”—the category pertinent to his habit of invoking his mother as proof of the sincerity of his pledge to help women through funding a program at the University of Southern California. And it includes the sins “we committed before you by exercising power”—evil inclination, clever cynicism (really), denial and false promises (think here of preferred movie roles that failed to materialize)—and the sins of business, which include “interest and extortion.” The list goes on—as do the applications to Weinstein’s behavior.

Weinstein’s religion also offers a guide to what to do next: demonstrate his penitence by apologizing personally to those whom he wronged.  A group confession to God—which is what occurs on Yom Kippur—is not enough. Repentance and “repair” require us to humble ourselves before those whom we’ve harmed. Weinstein doing just that before Ashley Judd—perhaps with cameras rolling—would be a start.  But no insincere confession will do.

I’m not sure what it costs to be a member of synagogues in Beverly Hills—and High Holiday tickets are always extra—but I’m confident that the cost will be less than the price of therapy. The Yom Kippur approach, sincerely applied, might even work—if not to restore Weinstein’s reputation, then at least to provide piece of mind for those over whom he wielded power.  For Harvey Weinstein, next Yom Kippur can’t come soon enough.

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