Van Wallach
A Jew from Texas, who knew?

Teshuva-Seeking Kanye West Channels the Rambam

The apology literary genre began in the week after the October 7 Pogrom, as poster defilers lost their jobs and tried to staunch the public shaming. The growing canon of apologies mutated in an exciting new direction in late December courtesy singer/tycoon/nudnik Kanye West, a/k/a Ye: He posted an apology on Twitter in Hebrew, adroitly timed ahead of his upcoming album release. A translation read:

I sincerely apologize to the Jewish community for any “unintended outburst” caused by my words or actions. It was not my intention to hurt or demean, and I deeply regret any pain I may have caused. I am committed to starting with myself and learning from this experience to ensure greater sensitivity and und.erstanding In the future, your forgiveness is important to me, and I am committed to making amends and promoting unity.

West’s statement comes weeks after Harvard President (now ex-president) Claudine Gay and University of Pennsylvania President (now ex-president) Elizabeth Magill issued apologies after their catastrophic “it depends on the context” testimony before the House of Representatives on campus antisemitism. After that, the cadence of apologies stopped for several weeks until West released his statement on December 26, keeping the publicity pot boiling before the January 12 release of his new album with Ty Dolla $ign, Vultures

West boasts an impressive track record of antisemitism. The Forward newspaper tracks it back to 2013, accelerating over the past year. To take just one example from October 18, the Forward reports:

West appeared on the “Drink Champs” podcast, hosted by rapper N.O.R.E. and D.J. EFN. On the podcast, West repeatedly blamed “Jewish Zionists” for his problems, which included his issues with ex-wife Kim Kardashian and the bad press coverage he received over his antisemitic tweets and other statements. (He also repeated a claim that he cannot be antisemitic because, as the “blood of Christ,” he is, himself, Jewish.).

And let’s consider that his new album’s title song includes the charming line “How I’m antisemitic? I just f–d a Jewish b–h” in this track.

I recently wrote about the apology statement genre for White Rose Magazine, and I analyzed their common explanations, such as acting under stress, wanting to support Palestinians, choosing inappropriate words and phrases, and “this is not who I am.”

The essay proposed a framework for judging an apology:

What qualifies as an effective apology? Does the literary quality count, the emotional honesty, the recognition of the depth of transgression, a heartfelt desire to perform what in Judaism is called teshuva, or making amends and taking a different path?

Yacov Fruchter, writing in Sefaria, notes that Maimonides, the Rambam,  “enumerates four primary steps to the teshuva process:”

    1. Recognize and discontinue the improper action.
    2. Verbally confess the action, thus giving the action a concrete form in your own mind.
    3. Regret the action. Evaluate the negative impact this action may have had on yourself or on others.
    4. Determine never to repeat the action. Picture a better way to handle it. There are two different types of transgressions: those between a person and God and those between one person and another. . .

Teshuva for a sin between one person and another: When one has caused harm to others, whether by stealing from them, embarrassing them or anything else, then teshuva requires that restitution and reconciliation be arranged between the parties involved. The damaged party must forgive the perpetrator before Divine forgiveness is granted.

More details on Rambam’s thinking in Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Teshuvah 2:4 can be found in Rabbi Gil Student’s essay “Why Does Teshuvah Work?” at Torah Musings.

Reviewed against the Rambam’s stages, how does West’s apology rate? First, I seriously doubt he wrote any of it, given his distinctive way of expressing himself. It has the crisis-communications generality of the typical celebrity apology—sadly drained of originality and West’s explosive and unpredictable style. Still, the statement briskly checks off Rambam’s teshuva boxes. Let’s interrogate West’s apology with a close textual analysis:

I sincerely apologize [Verbally confesses and regrets the action] to the Jewish community [Addresses a specific audience that was the focus of his harm] for any “unintended outburst” caused by my words or actions. It was not my intention to hurt or demean, and I deeply regret any pain I may have caused. [Names and evaluates the negative action] I am committed to starting with myself and learning from this experience to ensure greater sensitivity and understanding In the future, your forgiveness is important to me, and I am committed to making amends and promoting unity. [Determines to never repeat the action and will take steps to seek forgiveness]

West and his handlers try hard and the Hebrew was an intriguing approach, but the idea of an “unintended outburst” is dubious, unless he suffers from uncontrollable issues that drive his repeated rants. In any case, what was his intention if not “to hurt or demean” when he says things like “I am a person that is classified as Black, I classify myself as Jew. I want to prove that first of all I am Jew also. Do your research on it. We have got our culture ripped from us.” And “pain I may have caused”? Rather than hedging with “may,” an admission that he had actually caused pain would be more direct, as would details on his plan to learn and make amends.

Jewish reactions varied. The ADL posted on Twitter a cautious statement that tried to give West the benefit of the doubt:

After causing untold damage by using his vast influence and platform to poison countless minds with vicious antisemitism and hate, an apology in Hebrew may be the first step on a long journey towards making amends to the Jewish community and all those who he has hurt. Ultimately, actions will speak louder than words but this initial act of contrition is welcome.

I’ll also take a wait-and-see attitude. West could be serious; if so, he might start with private off-the-record conversations with Jewish leaders uncowed by star power and ready to talk frankly with him. Those might include Rabbi Meir Soloveichik and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. And I would pay cash money to be a fly on the wall if West sat down with Seattle-born American-Israeli rapper-musician Nissim Black.

West sketched a clear agenda for making amends; whether he seriously pursues the Rambam’s path to teshuva or is just mouthing celebrity narishkeit as a clever way to hype Vultures is an open question. Will he walk the walk as well as talk the talk?

The album, ironically enough (or not), has a track titled “Beg Forgiveness.” That title may have meanings beyond what West intended.

About the Author
Van "Ze'ev" Wallach is a writer in Westchester County, NY. A native of Mission, Texas, he holds an economics degree from Princeton University. His work as a journalist appeared in Advertising Age, the New York Post, Venture, The Journal of Commerce, Newsday, Video Store, the Hollywood Reporter, and the Jewish Daily Forward. A language buff, Van has studied Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew, although he can’t speak any of them. He is the author of "A Kosher Dating Odyssey." He is a budding performer at open-mic events.
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