In Memory of a Great Jew
Rabbi Michael Rosen z.l.
Who Knew Only Integrity
On Hypocrisy and Being Kosher
“With devotion’s visage
And pious action
We do sugar o’er
The devil himself”
Shakespeare, Hamlet, 3.1.47
Kosher animals, as is well known, can be identified by two simanim, physical signs. They must chew their cud, and their hooves must be wholly cloven (1). In order to be kosher, the animal must possess both simanim. The Torah goes out of its way to emphasize the fact that an animal in which only one sign is present cannot be considered kosher in any way.
“The camel, because it chews its cud but does not part the hoof, it is unclean to you. And the rock-badger, because it chews its cud but does not part 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 its cud, it is unclean to you.” (2)
Carefully reading this text makes us wonder. Why did the Torah need to state that these non-kosher animals chew their cud or have cloven hooves? After all, that is not what makes them spiritually “unclean”. On the contrary, having one positive sign suggests that perhaps they could be kosher! If the Torah would just mention the negative indicators in these animals that clearly identify them as non-kosher, we would have known enough: Non Kosher!
Moreover, why are the kosher signs mentioned before the non-kosher signs? Would the reverse order not be more accurate? Surely their non-kosher signs bear more relevance in a discussion of why these animals are not kosher! In what way, then, do the kosher simanim make the animal more non-kosher than the non-kosher signs themselves?
Rabbi Ephraim Shlomo ben Chaim of Luntshitz, known as the Keli Yakar (1550-1619) gives us a most illuminating explanation for why the Torah specifically chose this wording and no other. In his opinion, we might have thought that, indeed, the non-kosher aspects of these animals make them impure, but the kosher signs somehow moderate that impurity. Instead, the Torah comes to tell us that the kosher signs of non-kosher animals make them all the more unclean.
Why? Because animals with only one kosher sign represent a serious and negative character trait, namely, hypocrisy. The camel, or the swine, gives the appearance of being kosher. The camel can demonstrate its kashrut by emphasizing that it does, after all, chew its cud. The swine, too, can hold out its cloven hooves in order to “prove” its virtue. Both, therefore, have the ability to hide their true natures behind a faחade of purity. Only upon close inspection do we realize that these animals are unclean.
They are waving a kosher flag but hiding unclean cargo.
This is, indeed, much worse than being completely non-kosher. Completely non-kosher animals do not try to deceive us about their impurity, but rather openly and honestly declare “where they stand.” With these animals there is no hypocrisy, no misleading impressions. For this reason, the Torah mentions the kosher signs of the camel and swine first, for it is these deceptive signs that make them even more unclean.
The issue of hypocrisy and religious integrity is a most severe problem. For, what is ghastly about evil is not so much its apparent power but its cryptic ability to camouflage.
In our days, when every human deed and thought is the object of suspicion, man begins to wonder whether it is at all possible to live a life of integrity. Can we trust our own faith? Is piety ever detached from expediency? Is there not a vicious motive behind every action? Is honesty not wishful thinking? Are we not smooth-tongued and deceitful even when we appear to be honest?
Judaism fully recognizes this problem. It is hard, if not impossible, to know whether one acts from self-interest, or out of absolute integrity. But as long as the question hounds us and we admit to possibly being the victim of our own camouflage, and try to undo ourselves from this malaise, we have done what is humanly possible. Our greatest problem is when we are no longer disturbed by our ability to hide from our own camouflage.
If the swine and the hare would be disturbed by their kosher signs, which they cannot undo but would like to undo, they would then be “kosher”. And so it is with man.
1.Vayikra chapter 11, Devarim chapter 14.
2.Vayikra 11: 4-8