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The prayer service on the eve of Yom Kippur, even before "Kol Nidrei," opens with a brief declaration which despite its formal legal character is fraught with drama: "In the tribunal of heaven and the tribunal of earth, by the permission of God and by the permission of this holy congregation, we hold it lawful to pray with the transgressors."

This proclamation is uttered three times by the cantor in an increasingly strong voice, so that it is heard well and internalized. Various explanations are offered for this authorization. There are some who link it to the Marranos in Spain, who accepted Christianity externally while continuing to observe the Jewish religion in secret, while others say that within each of us there lurks a small transgressor.

If the prayer had been written in our time, it is possible that no one would have seen fit to include this declaration, because nowadays there is no need for special permission to pray with transgressors; we are in their company every day of the year, not only on Yom Kippur. They are deeply involved in our public life, seek the proximity of politicians - and find it - pull the strings and recruit votes, and if one is permitted to attend their family celebrations, the need for permission to pray together with them is rendered superfluous. There is no need to reiterate the self-evident three times.

It is difficult to count all the sins and transgressions that the Yom Kippur service lists, because there are so many of them.

Here are just a few, which are relevant to our discussion: "And for the sin we have committed before You out of ignorance; by deliberate deceit; by wronging our neighbor; by folly of the mouth; in business; with haughty eyes; by effrontery; by levity. We have done violence; framed falsehood; have counseled evil; have failed in promise; have oppressed; have been stiff-necked; have done wickedly; have corrupted ourselves; have gone astray and have led astray."

Yom Kippur, as everyone knows, is a day of forgiving and pardoning, but only for transgressions between man and God. For transgressions between man and his fellow, Yom Kippur grants expiation only after one has asked solicited forgiveness from the other, and provided, of course, the other truly forgives him.

However, there is one onerous sin for which it is impossible to grant forgiveness, and therefore it demands forgiveness in advance. That sin enfolds all the other sins that are listed above. It is in fact not a sin but a crime, and it should be defined as a crime against Zionism.

This is the crime of the settlements, which over the years has robbed Israel of about $80 billion - it's hard to know the exact amount - and thrust us into a serious crisis in education and social welfare. The crime of the settlements engendered the great denial of democracy, intensified political criminality, gave birth to refusal to serve, and ripped Israeli society apart.

At long last we want to rid ourselves of the punishment of the Gaza Strip, but find that it's impossible, because of the settlements. We want to build a security fence on a sensible and effective route, but find it is impossible, because of the settlements. We want to examine seriously the possibility of achieving peace with Syria, but find it's impossible, because of the settlements on the Golan Heights.

The time has come to admit that the crime of the settlements is the greatest crime in the history of the country, and because of it we face the danger of civil war and, concomitantly, an existential danger: we have gone astray and we have led astray. Thirty-seven years ago, people here believed that we were holding the occupied territories, but now everyone knows that the territories are holding us.

The settlers are the masters of the land, doing in it and to its citizens whatever their evil spirit fancies, and the fate of the country is abandoned to them; and with those transgressors we pray here, for our sins, every day of the year.

For the crime of the settlements, begging pardon, there is no atonement. Everyone who has been involved in it at any time - from Ariel Sharon to Shimon Peres - must ask forgiveness from the nation, but it is doubtful that they will be forgiven. All of them, those who went astray and led others astray, would do well to evacuate themselves from the public stage and sit at home.

Despite the permission to pray with the transgressors, I would not want to pray with the settlers and their benefactors. And not only because of the transgression, but mainly because we have an utterly different prayer book, and there are simply no grounds for comparison between the prayer books. And the God to whom we direct our prayers is, apparently, not the same God.