Politics & Parsha: Shmini 5771

Posted on March 23, 2011 In Archives

Politics & Parsha: “Shul Politics Like Never Before”

Each week IPA Deputy Director of Public Policy Howie Beigelman takes a look at the weekly parsha and discusses it in a way you may never have seen. Any hashkafic, halachic or political opinions are personal and do not reflect the official psak or policy of the OU.

Shmini 5771: Hogs Gone Kosher

“Why do I like kids? No faking. If kids don’t like you, they stab you right in the heart.” – Howie Beigelman

Now, I don’t usually quote myself. It’s silly. Also, psychologically suspect. But it works here.

The Bible this week lists the telltale signs we’d need to look for in kosher animals: chewed cud & split hooves. But the Bible also tells us explicitly certain animals are not kosher. Pig for instance, as they do have split hooves but don’t ruminate. The Talmud relates the Bible is explicit because pigs lay down with their forelegs out, splayed hooves on display to all and one could mistake them as kosher. The Talmud has a special word for this: deception.

Yiddish even created a phrase for it, chazar feesel kosher. Untranslatable language that it is, it roughly means kosher as pig’s feet. That is, someone or something pretending to be honest but actually two-faced (no, not this one).

For many years I volunteered my time as an advisor to a Jewish youth group. It was many more years than most people thought wise, possible or both so they often asked how I could survive so much time with teenagers. What I told them – well, see above.

“Grown-ups” (a misnomer if ever there was; big kids is more accurate) are too often duplicitous. Kids for the most part are an open book. What you see, you get. Coming not from the university or yeshiva like most advisors, but from the “real world” (another misnomer – the normative world is better) that integrity was refreshing.

The consequence of hanging out with teenagers so much is that in order to win their trust, you have to be like them. Not in dress, language, or in what’s cool. You just need to develop a palpable distaste for fakery. I learned this at a downright boring program with restless teens where I skipped the standard Advisor Handbook response (C’mon guys, it’s not so bad. Give it a chance. They worked hard on it.) I just agreed indeed, the program stunk and what was worse, I was trapped there too. They stopped complaining.

Politicians get rapped for not being honest enough, for telling people whatever they think they want to hear. I’m not sure any profession would really survive such scrutiny; just politicians are in public more often. In our own public lives – not to mention our private ones – we all ought to put more thought and more effort into acting truly kosher. Disagreements and dialogues can be based on merits and principles. Concerns (compliments too) can be aired openly, and not just told behind one’s back.

On this at least, all we ever needed to know we learned in high school. And from pigs.

Words to consider, ideas to ponder — politics & the parsha.