Actor Jamie Foxx was a shining example this past week. Not about antisemitism, mind you. But about apologies. He posted an absolutely horrific Instagram post that said: “They killed this dude name Jesus… What do you think they’ll do to you???! #fakefriends #fakelove.” Many Jews who read a post like this would assume that the “they” in the post refers to the Jews. After all, for thousands of years, Jews were accused of deicide, of being collectively responsible for the killing of Jesus. This accusation spurred acts of violence against Jews such as pogroms, massacres, expulsions and torture for thousands of years. In the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s, the Catholic Church issued the declaration Nostra aetate that rejected the multigenerational Jewish guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus. And yet, Jamie Foxx seemed to have reignited this antisemitic charge against the Jews.
Once he realized his mistake, he immediately deleted the post and offered an explanation in a new Instagram post that said: “I want to apologize to the Jewish community and everyone who was offended by my post. I now know my choice of words have caused offense and I’m sorry. That was never my intent. To clarify, I was betrayed by a fake friend and that’s what I meant with “they” not anything more. I only have love in my heart for everyone. I love and support the Jewish community. My deepest apologies to anyone who was offended.”
Apparently, the expression that Jamie Foxx used is a common expression in Black American church communities used to refer to fake friends. It is not used to refer to Jews. Additionally, he is known to be a friend of the Jews and clearly did not understand the implications of his post. I am so impressed with his apology because a sincere apology offered by a high-profile celebrity is hard to come by these days. (See here for examples of non-sincere celebrity apologies.) Unfortunately, in today’s world, for some reason, many people are afraid or reluctant to sincerely apologize. A few years back, I was reading an article by Dan Neuharth, Ph.D., MFT, entitled, “The Top 12 Fake Apologies – And What Makes For An Authentic Apology.” He listed the 12 most common non-apology apologies. Just to give you a taste of these non-apology apologies, I will list a few of them. First, there is the “I am sorry if” apology, such as, “I am sorry if I did anything wrong.” This is what’s known as a conditional apology, as it suggests only that something might have happened. Second, there is the “I am sorry that” apology, such as, “I am sorry that you got hurt.” This is what’s known as the blame-shifting apology, as it places the burden on the one who is hurt and suggests that he or she is the problem. Third, there is the “I am sorry but” apology, such as “I am sorry, but other people thought it was funny.” This is what’s known as the excuse-making apology, as it essentially excuses your behavior.
It’s difficult for many of us to sincerely apologize for a number of reasons. First, we may have low self-esteem so the admission of a mistake is too threatening for our egos to tolerate. We have seen many celebrities and politicians not sincerely apologize for this very reason. Additionally, often we give ourselves and not the other person the benefit of the doubt. We tend to see ourselves and not the other person in the best possible light. Maybe this is why Rabbi Moshe Isserles writes (Orach Chayim 603:1), “v’safek averah tzarich yoter teshuvah mai’averah vadai ki yoter mitcharet k’sheyodaya she’asah mi’she’aino yodaya” – “It is necessary to distance ourselves more from doubtful sins than from definite sins because one typically regrets more when he knows that he did something than when he doesn’t know.” We have to be more concerned with doubtful sins than definite sins because we often justify doubtful sins as not really being our fault.
Yes, Jamie Foxx made a mistake. At the same time, he set a counter-cultural example of how to apologize, and, with the month of Elul and the season of repentance arriving next week, I am grateful that such a high-profile celebrity taught us how to apologize.