Memphis Reads: ON REPENTANCE AND REPAIR, by Danya Ruttenberg

Aislinn reviews ON REPENTANCE AND REPAIR, by Danya Ruttenberg, Beacon Press, 2023, 256 pages. 

Why is it so hard to say, “I’m sorry?” Pride and ignorance can keep us from connecting meaningfully with our fellow humans, and it’s hard to know what to do when we’ve done wrong. In her brilliant and thought-provoking book, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg suggests we must learn to make better apologies and work towards making amends sincerely if we ever want to find that connection. She incorporates Jewish texts on the subject, but she really shines with her use of examples to further her argument. We have a tendency to focus more on forgiveness than actual repair work. We are often told that we have to forgive to really move past the hurt, but as Rabbi Ruttenberg writes, putting so much importance on forgiveness pushes the responsibility of repair on the aggrieved party. It is only when a person looks at their own actions and does the work of being a better person that the situation can honestly be resolved. She even argues that apologizing will make you feel better, and believe me, it works! Ruttenberg is kind, but stern—no one is off the hook when it comes to repair work, and I find that refreshing. She calls us all to task for our wrongs against each other, whether personal, corporate, national, etc. What I find most intriguing is the hope that is woven into each chapter. Rabbi Ruttenberg makes me believe that if we all take more responsibility for the harm that we all do to each other, we can somehow make the world a better place. Learning how to apologize is a great place to start.