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Repentance in Judaism, known as Teshuva (Hebrew name, literally "Returning" or "Return to God"), is the way of atoning for sin in Judaism.

According to Jewish law, if someone commits a sin, he can be forgiven for that sin if he performs 'Teshuva', which includes:

  • ceasing to commit the forbidden act,

  • regretting what he or she has done,

  • confessing before God,

  • firmly resolving never to repeat those actions.

Aside from this standard process of Teshuva, someone who has committed a crime against another human being is required to ask the person for forgiveness, and make it up to them. If one stole from his fellow, he must return the stolen item; if one has pained his fellow in any way, he must placate his fellow to achieve forgiveness.

The High Holidays are times that are especially conducive to Teshuva. Yom Kippur (the day of atonement) is a day of fasting at the culmination of which Judgement for that year is sealed. Therefore, Jews strive their hardest to make certain that they have performed Teshuva before the end of the day.

When the Temple in Jerusalem was active, a Jew was required to bring various sacrifices for certain types of sins. Although sacrifices were required, the most essential part of atonement was performing Teshuva. With the Roman destruction of the Second temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish practice of offering korbanot (animal sacrifices) ceased.

Once, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was walking with his disciple, Rabbi Yehoshua, near Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Yehoshua looked at the Temple ruins and said "Alas for us! The place that atoned for the sins of the people Israel lies in ruins!" Then Rabbi Yohannan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: "Be not grieved, my son. There is another equally meritorious way of gaining ritual atonement, even though the Temple is destroyed. We can still gain ritual atonement through deeds of loving-kindness. For it is written "Loving kindness I desire, not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6). (Midrash Avot D'Rabbi Nathan 4:5).