Review and Reflection of “On Repentance and Repair” by Danya Ruttenberg

Pastor Matthew Best
13 min readMay 23

This is a brand new book, being published in 2022, yet the content of it is timeless. Ruttenberg has identified that we live in a culture that is in great need of repentance and repair. I don’t think this is controversial. The question is how? Ruttenberg looks at one model from Maimonides, a 12th century Jewish philosopher and teacher of the Torah, and applies the teaching to what it might look like for us in the 21st century in America. Overall, I found this book to be very enlightening, healing, and opening the reader to seeing possibilities of repair that are so needed in our society. Ruttenberg presents a model — it’s out job to take that model and apply it. Within the book Ruttenberg applies the model to interpersonal relationships, as well as to institutions, and even to nations. And there are varying levels of healing that she highlights — which offer hope to the reader.

First, I want to just comment on the subtitle of the book — “Making amends in an unapologetic world.” Wow. There’s a lot there just in the subtitle. It’s a recognition of how cold the world is, but also a recognition that we don’t have to be cold in it. This book offers a path for people to experience healing in a world that can often be cruel for the sake of cruelty. There is a better way and Ruttenberg shows us a way.

She starts on page 3 with this statement and a series of important questions:

“To put it bluntly, American society isn’t very good at doing the work of repentance or repair. And though we’ve seen a recent increase in public attempts to hold harmdoers to task, there’s still a lot of confusion in the cultural conversation about what that might entail. What are we asking of the person who has done wrong? What work must they take on in order to repair, to whatever extent possible, the harm that was done? How should we regard them if they have caused harm and tried to fix it? If they have not done any amends work? What does justice look like, what does healing look like, and what are the roles of the victim and the perpetrator in this process? And what, if any, is the role of those who neither harmed nor perpetrated harm in all of this? There’s still a lot of uncertainty in our social discourse on these matters — even more so when we’re not talking about individuals perpetrating harm, but rather institutions, other organizations, or even nations.” (pg. 3). Thus begins her exploration of all these things in the book.

Pastor Matthew Best

My name is Matthew Best. I’m an ELCA (Lutheran) pastor who attempts to translate church and churchy stuff into everyday language.