"A man is not his crime" is a famous saying about looking beyond the criminal act to the person, to their inherent dignity, as a way to help them find hope, remorse and renewal. Is that from Talmud? A young cousin just went to prison and we are struggling to comprehend how this happened and how to rebuild.
If a man is not his sin at all, then why should that man be punished. It should be the one who is the crime, whoever that may be - the environment, the childhood poverty, the abusing parents.
Our wish, as per Tehilim, is that sin ceases, not the sinner (Psalms, 104:35; Berakhot 10a). Repentance, a great gift from God, is rooted in the hope that a person who has sinned can make amends, change course, and embrace the good. The entire book of Leviticus is replete with repentance strategies.
What perplexes me is your last sentence. The cousin went to jail. Is that the problem, or is the problem what the cousin did that led to the cousin being jailed? Then you say that we (not the cousin?!) are struggling with how this happened and how to rebuild.
Where is the cousin in all this? Is the cousin trying to rebuild? I know that it is unfair to draw conclusions, but I do wonder whether the problem here is that the family is more concerned with itself (family image?) and gives little meaningful attention to the cousin.
If that is the case, then the way to rebuild is to acknowledge this, and have serious, repentant discussions with the cousin in jail. The cousin is in jail, but the problem may be, partially at least, outside the jail.
My apologies if my thoughts are wrong, and I do hope mending will actually happen, and your cousin goes on to live a purposeful life.
While the saying, “A man is not his crime,” is not from Talmudic literature as far as I can tell, the underlying idea behind this expression is at the heart of the discussion of human nature, crime and punishment in rabbinic literature. On the one hand, Judaism begins with a deep and abiding belief in free human and choice, so that when a person commits a crime he must take responsibility for what he has done and bear the consequences of his actions. On the other hand, I do not believe that we can completely separate the individual from his or her crime until we are certain the person is sincere in his desire to change. One cannot say, “Well, so-and-so is a good guy except for this one horrific action.” Historical experience has taught us that human beings are complex creatures. Some Nazi war criminals were often caring husbands and fathers as well as accomplished professionals and academics and yet they committed horrific and cruel crimes against humanity. We can not dismiss their acts because of their otherwise humane nature.
By the same token the possibility of repentance always exists for an individual. Once a person has ‘paid the price’ for their wrong doings, they must also be reintegrated into society assuming there are remorseful and have made amends for their crimes. Judah ben Tabbai, one of the great sages of the Mishnah, used to offer the following advice to fellow judges: “(In the judges office), do not act the lawyer’s part; when the parties to a suit are standing before you, let them both be regarded as guilty, but when they depart from your presence, regard them both as innocent, having received the proper judgment.” (Pirke Avot 1:10) In other words, each person must bear the consequences of their actions no matter who they are. The judge must question the litigants’ motivations and presume ulterior motives until the case is resolved. Having done so and having paid the penalty, they are considered ‘innocent’ and given the opportunity to start over again.
Of course, society is not as forgiving as the Jewish tradition. Sometimes it is hard for others to let go of the pain and suffering that the guilty party has caused them. That is why punishment is not enough; the guilty party must also seek to redress the wrongs he committed particularly to the parties who where harmed. Repentance, we are taught, is made up of several parts. The guilty party must acknowledge his or her wrong and then publicly admit it. He must feel sincere remorse and seek forgiveness from the harmed parties. He must also make reparations for any monetary or physical harm he has caused. Only then can he seek forgiveness from God.
My heart goes out to you and your young cousin who is now facing the consequences of his actions. Now, more than ever, he needs your understand and help in rebuilding his life. It is your job to affirm his basic dignity as a human being but also help him come to terms with the acts of which he is guilty. Assuming that he understands and accepts his guilt, he should be given the opportunity to start over and rebuild his life. This is the real meaning of Teshuvah, repentance.
To begin with, I have never heard this saying. Jewish religious thought is based on what one does, not what one says that he or he believes. You provide little detail as to the crime for which the cousin was sent to prison. You also do not ask a clear question as to what you are seeking. Until you give us more information as to what happened, your question is very difficult to answer. We would also need to know more about your cousin.
The purpose of prison ought to be rehabilitation. Let’s hope that while imprisoned your cousin will seek appropriate counseling. It seems to me that your family members ought to pursue counseling as well.
What is it that you are seeking to rebuild, your cousin, or the family?
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