Let's all do the al chet (1)

[A slight variant of this page appears here 10 times. In each the text remains essentially the same. However, I will add a link to a new “survey” each time.]

I have written elsewhere, that I came to the rabbinate out of “polity” not “piety“. My involvement was as a community organizer.

Nonetheless, I recall sitting one Yom Kippur day in the late 1960s with a number of friends who had formed a group called Or Hadash (New Light). There we were on a blanket in the heat of the day, somewhere beyond the end of Alta Drive or Fair Oaks Ave. in Angeles National Forest above Altadena, California. We read the Al Chet to each other. (I sent the papers I had that related to this group to the American Jewish Archives in 2007.) We actually framed that experience as both polity and piety. We felt that by talking with each other how we had hardened our hearts we were both fulfilling the pious “obligation” to recite our people’s text and at the same time building a stronger more cohesive group.

ten times al chet

The Al Chet, an alphabetical acrostic, is recited as many as ten times throughout Yom Kippur. If we include its recitation on Selichot (the last Shabbat before Rosh haShannah), that is even more. Perhaps we can approach this list in a different way. How can we read these lines in a manner so that they retain their newness and urgency?

all twenty-two

  • א We have erred against You by אמוץ הלב hardening our hearts.
  • ב We have erred against You by בטוי שׂפתים speaking perversely.
  • ג We have erred against You גלוי ובסתר publicly and privately.
  • ד We have erred against You by דבור פה corrupt speech.
  • ה We have erred against You by הרהור הלב evil thought.
  • ו We have erred against You by ודוי פה insincere confession.
  • ז We have erred against You זדון ובשׁגגה intentionally and unintentionally.
  • ח We have erred against You by חלול השׁם desecrating your name.
  • ט We have erred against You by טפשׁות פה foolish talk.
  • י We have erred against You יודעים ובלא יודעים knowingly and unknowingly.
  • כ We have erred against You by כפת שׁחד bribery.
  • ל We have erred against You by לשׁון הרע slander.
  • מ We have erred against You in מאכל ובמשׁתה eating and drinking.
  • נ We have erred against You by נטית גרון false pride.
  • We have erred against You by שׂקור עין wanton glances.
  • ע We have erred against You by עזות מצח effrontery.
  • פ We have erred against You by פלילות perverting justice.
  • צ We have erred against You by צרות עין envy.
  • ק We have erred against You by קשׁיות ערף being stubborn.
  • ר We have erred against You by רכילות tale bearing.
  • We have erred against You by שׂנאת חנם causeless hatred.
  • ת We have erred against You by תמהון לבב confusion of values.

In the day of R. Ila’i, the entire concept of reciting such a list was fresh, new and challenging. As others learned about his practice, it is possible that what at first may have been a free association became more formal. It is not uncommon for what begins as “description” to develop into “prescription”. (“I was with R. Ila’i at Yom Kippur last year and he did….“) What might happen in our congregations if we scrapped the liturgical reading of these lines and discussed their content instead?

al chet chart

al chet chart

how many different ways can we approach the al chet so that it retains its relevance?

I have used the tools of the Web (in particular SurveyMonkey) to develop a number of questionnaires that may help us focus our attention on different aspects of the al chet. I’ll add a link to each one on a different day. Feel free to take the “survey” and share the link with others. As of this posting there are ten different surveys. If you can think of another one, please add your thoughts in the comments.

who participates in this kind of behavior, and how often?

Click here to enter your responses.

Respond to each statement (there are 22 of them, one for each Hebrew letter) by selecting with whom (at which level of communal living) you have experienced and/or participated in this error and at what frequency.

We may be able to rank these (as to seriousness) later.

This version, illustrated above, is available as a downloadable PDF.


rank the errors from most egregious to the least egregious


this error was a particular problem for me when I was…

If a particular category does not match your life, feel free to ignore it.
(If at some later time it does, I expect to keep this online… as long as these phenomena can remain online. If you can think of better categories for the column headers, please let me know.)


how do I feel when I experience a particular chet happening?

Do I respond with anger, sorrow, or am I apathetic?

rank all 22 errors in terms of which is the hardest (for me) to avoid

Is it eating and drinking or perhaps false pride?


how do I respond when I see an error done?

Do I point out the error or ignore it?


age specific errors

Is a particular behavior a chet at a specific age, but not when done at another age (for example: foolish talk)?


do we perceive some of these errors as more commonly associated with men or women?

You might want to do this with a partner of the opposite sex; then you can compare responses to see where you agree and disagree.


it has been x amount of time since I have seen a particular error done

Either I live in a rarified world, or I may not be paying attention.


rank all 22 errors in order of most commonly done to least

I and my friends may not do this one or that one, but when I look at the larger world I see these as most common and those as least common.

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