Let’s all do the al chet (2)

[A slight variant of this page will appear here 10 times. In each the text will remain 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

Click here to enter your responses.


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.

let’s all do the… what?

Let’s all do the Cherkessia!” was the intro­duc­to­ry line of an “Israeli” line dance we learned as chil­dren. The only ref­er­ence to the dance on the Web is on a page that con­sists of no more than links to three oth­er pages that either no longer exist or no longer con­tain the infor­ma­tion orig­i­nal­ly promised.

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