Friday, April 6, 2018

Harvest of Hypocrisy / Parshat Shemini 2018/5778

It is like opening an oyster and discovering within a gleaming pearl when  a sublime and profound spiritual lesson springs from the interpretation of a seemingly unrelated matter, in this case, the halakhah of kashut (the laws concerning what is kosher to eat and what is not). Much of Parshat Shemini is devoted to the laws of kashrut. With regard to mammals, Torah’s standards are simple: an animal that chews its cud and has cloven hooves is permissible:
 וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן, לֵאמֹר אֲלֵהֶם.   דַּבְּרוּ אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹרזֹאת הַחַיָּה אֲשֶׁר תֹּאכְלוּ, מִכָּל-הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר עַל-הָאָרֶץכֹּל מַפְרֶסֶת פַּרְסָה, וְשֹׁסַעַת שֶׁסַע פְּרָסֹת, מַעֲלַת גֵּרָה, בַּבְּהֵמָה--אֹתָהּ, תֹּאכֵלוּ
Adonai spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them: Speak to the Israelite people thus: These are the creatures that you may eat from among all the land animals: any animal that has true hooves, with clefts through the hooves and that chews the cud—such you may eat. (Leviticus 11:1–3)
Accordingly, cows, sheep, goats, deer, and gazelles are acceptable as food because they both chew the cud and have cloven hooves. However, dogs, which possess neither attribute, are not kosher (I can hear many of you heaving a sigh of relief). 

The criteria—requiring rumination and cloven hooves—seem clear enough, yet Torah proceeds to specify animals that have one of the two attributes, but not the other. 

אַךְ אֶת-זֶה, לֹא תֹאכְלוּ, מִמַּעֲלֵי הַגֵּרָה, וּמִמַּפְרִסֵי הַפַּרְסָהאֶת-הַגָּמָל כִּי-מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא, וּפַרְסָה אֵינֶנּוּ מַפְרִיס--טָמֵא הוּא, לָכֶםוְאֶת-הַשָּׁפָן, כִּי-מַעֲלֵה גֵרָה הוּא, וּפַרְסָה, לֹא יַפְרִיס; טָמֵא הוּא, לָכֶםוְאֶת-הָאַרְנֶבֶת, כִּי-מַעֲלַת גֵּרָה הִוא, וּפַרְסָה, לֹא הִפְרִיסָה; טְמֵאָה הִוא, לָכֶםוְאֶת-הַחֲזִיר כִּי-מַפְרִיס פַּרְסָה הוּא, וְשֹׁסַע שֶׁסַע פַּרְסָה, וְהוּא, גֵּרָה לֹא-יִגָּר; טָמֵא הוּא, לָכֶםמִבְּשָׂרָם לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ, וּבְנִבְלָתָם לֹא תִגָּעוּ; טְמֵאִים הֵם, לָכֶם
The following, however, of those that either chew the cud or have true hooves, you shall not eat: the camel—although it chews the cud, it has no true hooves: it is unclean for you; the daman—although it chews the cud, it has no true hooves: it is unclean for you; the hare—although it chews the cud, hat has no true hooves: it is unclean for you; and the swine—although it has true hooves, with the hooves cleft through, it does not chew the cud: it is unclean for you. You shall not eat of their flesh or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you. (Leviticus 11:4–8)
We could understand the list as a clarification of the important religious distinction between permissible and impermissible animals and move on. The Rabbis, however, single out the example of the swine to teach an important lesson about hypocrisy.
Just as the swine, when reclining, puts forth its hooves as if to say, “See that I am kosher,” so too does the Roman Empire boast as it commits violence and robbery under the guise of establishing a judicial tribunal. This may be compared to a governor who put to death the thieves, adulterers and sorcerers. He leaned over to a counselor and said, “I myself did these things in one night.” (Leviticus Rabbah 13:5)
Mammals with only one of the two requisite attributes are like hypocrites who cry, “I’m legitimate—see how my hooves are cloven!” or “I’m permissible—see how I chew my cud!” to distract us from the truth of their disqualifying attributes. 

Rabbi Ephaim Shlomo of Lutzshitz (1550–1619, author of the commentary K’li Yakar, whose title became his sobriquet) takes the midrasnhic lesson one step further, revealing in Torah’s seemingly unnecessary listing of animals a pearl of sublime truth and deep wisdom. The K’li Yakar observed that Torah might have more efficiently noted the missing attribute that disqualified the animal and left it at that. Yet it includes the seemingly superfluous information concerning the “kosher” attribute each animal does have.
The camel that chews the cud. The text should just have said, “it has no true [i.e., split] hooves" since this is the real principle of its impure status, and so, too, for the daman and the hare. This is a difficulty. Also, too, with the swine it says, “although it has true hooves" but it should just have stated "because it does not chew the cud.” Why does the text begin regarding all these animals with the signs of possibly being kosher, and then add later the sign of their non-kosher status? This is because both signs add to its non-kosher status. This is like what [the Rabbis in the midrash Leviticus Rabbah 13:5, cited above] said: the pig is a symbol for Esau [i.e., the Roman empire] in that the pig extends his hooves as if to say it is kosher, while inside it is filled with deceit and fraud, and this teaches applies to everyone whose insides are not like their outsides, such as the hypocrites that pretend to be kosher but are without doubt worse than the complete scoundrel, since [the scoundrel's] insides are like his outsides, all devoted to evil… And so the split hooves of the pig are a sign to its impurity since because of those hooves it can mislead people, pretending it is kosher…
K’li Yakar goes so far as to say that people who make no effort to hide their dishonesty are in some regards more trustworthy than people who pretend to be honest although they are not. The latter—hypocrites—are far more dangerous because their modus operand is fraud and deception. As Nobel laureate André Gide pointed out in his novel The Counterfeiters, “The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity.”[1]

The world abounds in hypocrites. The latest “pig” who “puts forth its hooves as if to say, ‘See that I am kosher’” is Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, who began her journalistic career at Dartmouth College by outing gay students in her role as editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth Review. She sent a reporter undercover to a confidential LGBTQ meeting to secretly record the conversations. As The New York Times  reported in 1984 shortly after the incident, Ingraham outed them, publishing excerpts of the conversation at the Gay Students Association meeting and even printing their names.[2] Ingraham claimed that “freedom of the press” trumped the oath of confidentiality everyone present at the gathering had pledged. She went on in her career to 
    • compare same-sex marriage to state-sanctioned incest
    • mock migrant children fleeing violence in Central America
    • claim that Mexican immigrants “come here to murder and rape our people”  
    • suggest that those who reenter the country after being deported should “be shot crossing the border” 
    • attack civil rights leaders and organizations
    • claim that the NAACP is “a push organization for racist sentiments” 
    • counsel us all to wear Depends rather than share bathrooms with transgendered people 
    • exhort Muslims to “stay in the Middle East” 
    • criticize voter registration as “the politics of division.” 
(To hear audio for all these and more outrageous claims, click here.)

Apparently, once a troll always a troll.[3] Recently, Ingraham revealed in a tweet that David Hogg, a Parkland survivor and leader of the student protests, was rejected by four colleges to which he applied (despite, by the way, a 4.2 GPA). It was a malicious ad hominem attack, typical of a troll. Hogg called on Ingraham’s advertisers to boycott her show to demonstrate that her behavior was unacceptable. The response was swift. Bayer, Nestle, Wayfair, Hulu, Johnson & Johnson, TripAdvisor, Nutrish pet food, Stitch Fix personal style service, Expedia, and Atlantis Paradise Island all announced that they had pulled their ads. While I am not a fan of boycotts, I understand the desire to exert pressure. In this case, Ingraham’s response reveals the depth of her cynical hypocrisy.

What did Ingraham do? Just what you would expect a “pig" to do: She proffered a public apology, the hypocrisy of which she did not even attempt to conceal: “On reflection, in the spirit of Holy Week, I apologize for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the brave victims of Parkland.” How many ways is this apology wrong? It’s clear that her “apology” was a business move to lure back her advertisers. It was not a sincere apology. Want more proof? She did not apology for her behavior, but rather for any “upset or hurt” her words caused. In other words: Those who are offended are the problem, not me. A sincere apology notes what the one offering the apology did wrong. Next: She offered her so-called apology “in the spirit of Holy Week,” which has absolutely nothing to do with the need to apologize when one has offended. Were it not Holy Week, would she not need to apologize? The mention of Holy Week was a slick and slimy attempt to suggest to those who read her tweets that the onus is on Hogg to forgive her, forgiveness being a major theme of the Christian Holy Week. Furthermore, Ingraham extended her “apology” by public tweet, not by calling Hogg and talking to him directly and privately, which a sincere apology would require.

Ingraham’s coldly cynical hypocrisy is the sort K’li Yakar had in mind. Recall André Gide’s words: “The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity.” These are the most dangerous liars and hypocrites. Sadly there is no shortage of them today. There are, happily, legions of people—from superb journalists to idealistic high school students—who ferret them out and reveal them as the hypocrites they are, helping us all see through the thick much of their lies. Our job is to keep our antenna tuned to the truth-tellers.

[1]  André Gide, The Counterfeiters, trans. Dorothy Bussy (1973: Vintage Books), p. 427.

[2] Also

[3] See Rabbi David Seidenberg’s piece in “Dorf on Law” at

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman