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Yom Kippur is the most sacred religious holiday for Jews. It is known as The Day of Atonement and occurs in early autumn (Oct. 13 this year). It is a curious sort of “holiday,” for it is not about celebration. Rather, it is all about repentance and seeking forgiveness. “On this day, devout Jews think of their sins, repent, and ask forgiveness from God and from other people . . . .[They] fast, perform no work, and attend services in the synagogue or temple.” 21 The World Book Encyclopedia 570 (1988). As I prepare for this year’s upcoming observance of Yom Kippur, it occurs to me that it might be a good idea if all lawyers, regardless of their religion, engaged in a Yom Kippur-type experience each year. The great thing about Yom Kippur is that it gives you a genuine chance for a fresh start, as you put behind you all the wrongs that you perpetrated over the past year. But you only merit that cleansed feeling if you really admit your wrongs to yourself and repent for them in the right way. So, before you try this for yourself, let me give you the directions as they appear in the contemporary reform Jewish prayer book. The first thing you have to realize is that it is easier to seek forgiveness from God than from those you have wronged. If you have wronged somebody by an act that God would consider a sin, you can ask for God’s forgiveness and get it-no questions asked. But until you admit your wrongs and apologize to the affected people, you have not repaired your wrongs and you still must live with them. Unlike the characters in Love Story, a Jew or a lawyer seeking atonement has to say, “I’m sorry,” and mean it. Next, you really have to be honest with yourself and acknowledge all of your wrongdoings and transgressions over the past year. There are several categories of wrongs that Jews are asked to consider during Yom Kippur. Many of these describe conduct in which lawyers may be prone to engage during their professional practice, such as “failures of truth,” “distorting facts to fit our theories,” “pretending to emotions we do not feel,” “denying responsibility for our own misfortunes,” “condemning in [others] faults we tolerate in ourselves.” Central Conference of American Rabbis, Gates of Repentance 327-28 (1978). Indeed, the Jewish prayer book lists a virtual alphabet of offenses for which lawyers might need to seek forgiveness: arrogance, bigotry, cynicism, deceit, egotism, flattery, greed, injustice, jealousy, keeping grudges, lust, maliciousness, narrow-mindedness, obstinacy, possessiveness, quarrelsomeness, rancorousness, selfishness, violence, weakness of will, xenophobia, yielding to temptation, zeal for bad causes. Id. at 269-70. Lawyers seeking atonement should go down the list and consider whether they have succumbed to any of these shortcomings and, if so, do the forgiveness thing. Third, you have to forgive others even as you ask for forgiveness from others. This is what my prayer book asks each of us to think (and feel) if we really expect to achieve atonement: “I hereby forgive all who have hurt me, all who have wronged me, whether deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed. May no one be punished on my account. As I forgive and pardon those who have wronged me, may those whom I have harmed forgive and pardon me, whether I acted deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed.” Id. at 324. Wouldn’t it be nice if, once a year, we lawyers could just forget all of our prior confrontations with each other? This would allow us to go forward treating each other more civilly. Another part of the atonement process is to fast for 24 hours. The theory is that the pain and discomfort we feel from fasting should lead us to begin to understand how others feel when they have been hurt by one of our wrongful acts. By better appreciating how it feels to be hurt, we may become less inclined to cause hurt to others. If fasting worked for every lawyer, there would be a lot fewer hurtful acts occurring in the profession. That would make the practice of law more fulfilling for all. A Law Day of repentance? So there you have a short course in the art of observing Yom Kippur. Maybe there should be a movement to “Yom Kippur-ize” Law Day and designate that as the one day when all lawyers are expected to reflect on wrongs committed in their professional work, repent, apologize to those whom they’ve wronged, forgive those who wronged them and resolve to do better in the next 12 months. There is just one problem with this idea: The traditional Law Day Luncheon would be a bit awkward if we were all fasting. On the other hand, the Law Day speaker would have our undivided attention. Besides, there could even be an unexpected health benefit associated with forgiving and reconciling with others. This was suggested by the title of an article by Jordana Lewis and Jerry Adler that appeared about this time last year in Newsweek: “Forgive and Let Live: Revenge Is Sweet, But Letting Go of Anger at Those Who Wronged You Is a Smart Route to Good Health.” Lawrence K. Hellman is dean and professor of law at Oklahoma City University School of Law.

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