The confession of a sin in itself does not bring immediate forgiveness, but rather it marks a point in time after which a person's demonstration of the recognition and avoidance of similar future transgressions show whether he or she has truly recovered from the sin and therefore whether he or she deserves forgiveness for it.
The Structure of a Confession
כיצד מתודין? אומר: 'אנא ה' חטאתי עויתי פשעתי לפניך ועשיתי כך וכך הרי נחמתי ובושתי במעשי ולעולם איני חוזר לדבר זה' וזהו עיקרו של וידוי וכל המרבה להתוודות ומאריך בענין זה הרי זה משובח
How does one confess? [He or she] says: 'Please God! I have intentionally sinned, I have sinned out of lust and emotion, and I have sinned unintentionally. I have done [such-and-such] and I regret it, and I am ashamed of my deeds, and I shall never return to such a deed.' That is the essence of confession, and all who are frequent in confessing and take great value in this matter, indeed is praiseworthy.
- For an explanation of the three types of sins recognized by Jewish theology, see halacha.
In addition to each person's own personal confessions, a form of confession has been added to the daily prayer. There are two accepted structures of confession, the abbreviated confession (וידוי הקטן) and the elongated confession (וידוי הגדול), with both including a list of sins that a person confesses to in the order of the Alephbet; the abbreviated confession lists one sin per letter and the elongated lists two.
The abbreviated confession is said as a portion of Tachanun (daily supplications) immediately following the Amidah. It is recited standing and quietly except on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when it is customary to recite it aloud. In many congregations, (mainly Ashkenazic ones) it is even customarily sung on these dates.
This formula begins "We have been guilty, we have betrayed, we have stolen, we have spoken falsely, etc.", ("אשמנו, בגדנו, גזלנו, דיברנו דופי, וכו"). An early form of this confession is found most directly in Daniel 9:5-19; see especially verses 5, 9, 18-19, where the supplicant acknowledges himself merit-less, and entreats for God's forgiveness based only on God's own merit, and that God's name should not be tarnished among the nations.
With each confessed sin, a person touches his fist to his chest opposite his heart. The elongated confession is said only on Yom Kippur.
There is a similar confession recited prior to death. It can be recited by the petitioner, but can be recited by someone else, usually a Rabbi, in cases where the dying person lacks strength or reciting it would cause them undue distress.