Monday, May 01, 2006

Question & Answer With Rabbi Fishel Jacobs - Israel Behind Bars

A few months ago I discovered Rabbi Fishel Jacobs, author of "Family Purity" had also written a new book on his experiences as an Israeli prison chaplain, entitled "Israel Behind Bars." Below are his answers to some questions that I asked him on his new book:

A Simple Jew asks:

Is it difficult to maintain a positive view of mankind after working in a prison?

Rabbi Fishel Jacobs answers:

Not for me. In fact, thirteen years only confirmed certain truths I've always held. Specifically, "man" is neither good nor evil -- per se. We all have inclination to do good; and, conversely, inclinations to do bad. Many criminals are products of environment, habit; their duty is, using available resources, to reeducate themselves to be able to blend back and contribute into society.

A Simple Jew asks:

In your book you wrote that the toughest question to answer as a prison chaplain is, "Will G-d ever forgive me?" How do you answer this question when it comes from murderers, rapists, child molesters, and thieves?

Rabbi Fishel Jacobs answers:

There was never a blanket answer. Repentance/forgiveness regarding a murderer are different from those of a thief. (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuva; Shulchan Aruch.) Additionally, you need a personalized attitude speaking to each and every prisoner. They're all individuals. A standard approach I can give, however, is that I always tried to encourage and give hope -- for many that was all they had in this life.

A Simple Jew asks:

While each person and circumstance is certainly different, what kinds of things would you generally recomment for a murderer, rapist, or child molester to do in order to do some for of teshuva for his act?

Rabbi Fishel Jacobs answers:

The general concept of teshuva is remorse on a specific act and conviction to never repeat it. Let's take that one step further. The Chasidic approach to teshuva -- though certainly inclusive -- is not limited to repentence on specific acts. It is an overall return to Hashem and Torah. Teshuva in this sense is not only remorse and conviction specific to any given act. It is a total refocus of the entire soul and personality. Working as a prison rabbi in Israel is unique from anywhere else in the world where chaplains exist. Elsewhere it's a visit, for whatever amount of time. Here, I was inside the wards--and cells--for ten full hours a day, five work days a week, for over ten years. When you have that opportunity to study, talk, "farbreng," rejoice, share sorrow, with your men you verily experience inmates, incarcerated for lenghty periods, undergoing such intense changes. This, I am convinced, is totally unique to this country's penal experience. I hope the reader sees this through my book, Israel Behind Bars. And I believe the Israeli government is to be blessed for creating a situation where this is possible.


At November 9, 2008 at 8:25:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what an exceptional opportunity


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