Thoughts to Ponder Number 81
10 Iyar, 5761; May 3, 2001

Religious Hypocrisy

"With devotion's visage
And pious action
We do sugar o'er
The devil himself."
(Shakespeare, Hamlet, 3.1.47)

Kasher animals, as is well known, are to be identified by two simanim (physical signs). They have to chew their cud and their hooves are to be wholly cloven (Vayikra, chapter 11 and Devarim, chapter 14). If only one of these signs is present, the Torah goes out of its way to emphasize the fact that they are still not kasher.

"The camel, because it chews its cud but does not part the hoof, it is unclean unto you. And the rock-badger, because it chews its cud but parts not the hoof, it is unclean to you. And the hare, because it chews its cud but does not part the hoof, it is unclean to you. And the swine, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed, but does not chew the cud, it is unclean to you." (Vayikra 11,4-8)

Carefully reading this text makes us wonder why there is a need altogether to state that these non-kasher animals chew the cud or have cloven hoofs. After all, that is not what makes them unclean. It is what could have made them kasher! If the Torah would just have mentioned those signs in these animals that identify them as non-kasher, we would have concluded that they are indeed not clean, since it requires two signs and not just one to be kasher.

On top of this, why are first the kasher signs of these non-kasher animals mentioned and only afterwards the non-kasher signs? It should have been the reverse! It is the non-kasher signs that make them non-kasher!

Rabbi Efraim Shlomo ben Chaim of Luntshitz, known as the Keli Yakar (1550-1619) reminds us of a most significant reason why the Torah chooses this wording and no other. In his opinion, we might have thought that it is the non-kasher signs of these animals that make them impure while the kasher-signs somehow ameliorate that impurity. Therefore the Torah came to tell us the reverse: The kasher signs of non-kasher animals make them all the more unclean.

The reason for this carries a most important message: Animals with only one kasher sign represent a most serious, tainted characteristic which the other fully non-kasher animals do not represent, the characteristic of hypocrisy. The camel or the swine appear partially kasher. They are able to "prove" their purity by showing their kasher signs. The camel would be able to demonstrate its kashruth by emphasizing that it is, after all, chewing its cud while the swine could do the same with its cloven hooves. Both therefore have the ability to hide their uncleanness behind an apparent purity and as such are able to deceive their surroundings.

They are waving a kasher flag but hiding unclean cargo.

This is indeed much worse than the case of the completely non-kasher animals. They, at least, are not trying to hide their impurity but openly declare "where they stand." Here there is no hypocrisy, no attempt to make a false impression but an honest declaration. It is for this reason that the Torah mentions first the kasher signs of the camel, the swine and some other animals. The reason is clear: these signs make them even more unclean!

When reading the story about Jacob's gift of the colored garment to Joseph, we read: "And they (the brothers) saw that Jacob loved Joseph more than his brothers, they hated him and they could not speak peaceably with him" (Bereshith 37:4). On this, Rashi comments: "From their blame we learn their praise, for they did not speak one way with their mouths and another way in their hearts." Even in their error they were honest.

This message cannot be emphasized enough in our troubled times. The damage done by those who represent religious doctrines, quasi-Judaisms or other religions by speaking a double language is unforgivable. Hiding ones dishonesty behind religious texts, talmudic knowledge, religious garments and frequently visiting the churches, mosques or synagogues, desecrates the name of God, and genuine religion is blamed.

"Let them not forget that hypocrites may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised" (Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, 3:9)

Friedrich Nietzsche once said that the hypocrite who always plays the same part ceases at least to be a hypocrite. (Human, All too Human, p. 51)

Indeed, false honesty is the worst of lies.

Nathan Lopes Cardozo

Reproduction of this essay is permitted when printed in full.

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