Progressively Speaking: What does Roxanne Pallett saga teach about repentance?
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Progressively Speaking: What does Roxanne Pallett saga teach about repentance?

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers takes a topical issue and offers a Reform Jewish angle

Roxanne Palletta
Roxanne Palletta

I haven’t watched Celebrity Big Brother for a few seasons. But even I wasn’t able to avoid this year’s biggest controversy.

Actor Ryan Thomas appeared to light-heartedly jab at housemate Roxanne Pallet’s body. Watching the clips, it seemed like a jovial bit of play-fighting and she continued to joke with him afterwards. But she soon complained of feeling unsafe and he was given a warning.

Roxanne then began discussing it with other housemates, trying to get them on side, before they began to question if he should be allowed to stay in the house.

Social media blew up over the episode, with most people feeling she was overreacting and making a mockery of claims of real abuse.

Roxanne chose to leave the show after hearing the crowd asking for her eviction and has since apologised on national TV, saying she clearly got
it wrong.

This appears to be a great example of teshuvah (repentance) for the High Holy Days. She got it wrong, she has apologised, and shown contrition. She also seems to be punished, losing all previous work commitments.

Shouldn’t she be allowed a second chance? Someone’s reputation is hugely important in Judaism – to destroy a person’s name is akin to killing them.

“A sword can only kill someone who is nearby; a tongue can cause the death of someone who is far away” (Talmud Shabbat 15b).

Not only did Roxanne damage Ryan’s reputation, her behaviour has been detrimental to millions of victims whose voices were heard only last year after the #MeToo movement took off. Their abusers were largely not brought to justice. Roxanne’s embellishing of her grievance against Ryan gives unfair credence to the suggestion that women frequently use such claims for attention.

To sin and apologise is part of the effort of this season, but to repeatedly sin in the same way and repent just doesn’t work.

Teshuvah is only complete when you can change your behaviour the next time you are tempted by the same misdeed.

  • Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers  is Reform Judaism’s community educator

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