The Gemara (Yoma 86b) raised another important question in the context of vidui: Is it proper for a sinner to confess publicly? On the one hand, we have seen that a person should be ashamed of his sins and not confess them in the presence of others, as it says, “Happy is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered over” (Tehilim 32:1). On the other hand, we have learned that a sinner should not try to cover up his crimes. Rather, he should publicly confess them, as it says, “He who covers up his faults will not succeed; he who confesses and gives them up will find mercy” (Mishlei 28:13).
The Gemara records two views. Rav explains that if a sin was committed in private, it should be confessed in private as well, as public confession impinges on the honor of heaven and publicizes that some people brazenly violate Torah commandments. However, if the sin was committed in public, it was a desecration of God’s name. The sinner can only rectify this by confessing publicly, so that the masses know that he repented. This will sanctify God’s name (Sha’arei Teshuva 1:18).
- Naḥman explains that one should confess interpersonal sins publicly, so that everyone sees that his friend’s honor is important to him, which will also help his efforts to placate his friend. However, one who proudly hurts his friend publicly but asks for forgiveness privately has not repented adequately. In contrast, when sins are between man and God, generally it is preferable to confess privately, to avoid further desecration of God’s name.
In practice, one should consider both factors, namely, God’s honor and his friend’s honor and appeasement. In general, sins between man and God should preferably be confessed privately, though if the sin was committed publicly, in a way that desecrated God’s name, the confession should be public as well, as this restores divine honor. In contrast, interpersonal sins should generally be confessed publicly, as this is a better way for the offender to placate the injured party. However, in cases where a public confession would make things worse (for example, when only the two of them are aware of the offense, or when the injured party would prefer that the whole embarrassing incident be forgotten), clearly it is forbidden for the offender to confess publicly.
The Sages say that one who tells others of a sin he committed in private is called brazen, as he desecrates God’s name. They then ask: How could Reuven have confessed to changing his father’s sleeping arrangements? They answer that a sinner must confess when there is a possibility that not doing so will result in someone else being wrongfully suspected (Sota 7b). With this precedent, some Aḥaronim say that it is permitted to publicly admit to one’s sins when there is a legitimate need to do so (Pri Ḥadash; Sha’arei Teshuva 607:2).