All Their Vows

This evening two important members of the congregation will say, together with the cantor: "In the tribunal of Heaven and the tribunal of earth, by the permission of God - blessed be He - and by the permission of this holy congregation, we hold it lawful to pray with transgressors," followed by the Kol Nidre, in which vows are nullified.

Is there still need for explicit sanction, or has time made it redundant? After all, without transgressors it's hard to cobble together a minyan, a prayer quorum, these days, and it's hard to tell them apart from the non-transgressors. And if we host them throughout the year then why boycott them precisely during the period of forgiveness? It won't be long now before respectable transgressors are sanctioning honest people to pray with them.

There is no more fitting day than today to address the issue of transgression. What is the difference, actually, between transgressions between man and God and those between man and man? The difference has not been sufficiently clarified. Are the transgressions committed by the congregation's leaders - the entire public's leaders - transgressions against God or against their citizens? And if they have no God, then what?

"Gnivat da'at," for example (literally, "stealing one's mind") - what kind of transgression is this? Ganav ("thief") is clear: someone who takes the property of others and thrives on others' carelessness. So is gniva, (theft): the taking of others' possessions by stealth and deception. But gnivat da'at, to which category does it belong: to the God group or the society group?

Take, for example, something Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an end-of-term interview. He vehemently denied accusations of being a hedonist. "I only smoke cigars," he explained, "and cigar smokers are said to be hedonists." He forgot to mention that it is pleasurable to smoke a cigar in an expensive hotel suite. He forgot that one travels to this luxury suite in a luxury limousine. He forgot that first-class passengers have limousines waiting for them. He forgot that the flight was funded twice, and that he kept the frequent flyer miles for himself. He forgot about sitting in the suite, looking "at the only watch I have that's worth something," as he put it, asking impatiently why the benefactor's car is late, why his envelopes are taking so long to arrive.

Is all this sudden forgetting gnivat da'at? Is gnivat da'at more or less serious than merely stealing an apple in the market? And who rages at it more - God or man?

In the same interview Olmert also regrets having walked in darkness for 40 years, totally oblivious to the Palestinians or the Syrians, or even to the Egyptians until 30 years ago. Now he is returning with the wisdom of the night and with his cover version of the chorus of "What You See from Here" (lyrics: A. Sharon; tune folk; performed by the Etrogs). From here and from there and the other way around - who cares now and what differences does it make anyway? One might think he was plucked from the back of the herd to be prime minister, a naive youth with beautiful eyes, rather than having arrived at the premiership from a series of senior positions that should have opened his eyes long ago. This too is gnivat da'at, for which not even Yom Kippur atones.

As long as they are in politics they will not annul all their vows: They are absolutely terrified. Only when they are as good as dead, obsolete, are their vows suddenly not vows, their bonds not bonds, their oaths not oaths.