Teshuva in Responsa III
In a Responsum (no. 12) addressed to a Rabbi Seligmann, Rabbi Yaacov Ben Yehudah Weil discusses the penance to be imposed on a young married woman who had been unfaithful.
The Rokeah by Eleazar b. Judah of Worms (c. 1165-c. 1230), in the second chapter, describes at length penance for various sins.
The Rokeah’s Teshuvat ha-Mishkal, ‘the penance of balance’, has as its aim the self-torment of the sinner to the degree when the pain experienced outweighs any pleasure there may have been in the sin.
The name of each sin in Hebrew is given its numerical value, and fasts have to be observed corresponding to this number.
Rabbi Weil notes how rigorous Rokeah’s penances are, involving severe mortification of the flesh. If this young woman is informed all at once what I demanded of her, she will refuse to repent. Therefore, she should first be instructed to confess her sin. Although public confession is not normally advised, the Talmud (Shabbat 156b) does advocate it where the sin is known to the public. The woman should proceed to the women’s compartment in the synagogue and there confess her sins in German.
She should remove all her jewels and wear only black garments and she should not sleep in a bed, only on the ground or on a hard board. This she should do for a whole year.
During this year, except on the Sabbaths and festivals, she should fast every day, and she should sit twice a week for a quarter of an hour in snow in winter and be stung by bees in summer.
For the rest of her life she should keep herself away from men as much as she possibly can. She should spend all her days in repentance and mortification, to the limits of her strength.
Is there a way we can practice a different form of the Rokeach’s Teshuvat ha-Mishkal that is less focused on physical self-torment?