What are the origins of hypocrisy

Nobody is perfect: Daniel Neumann on religious hypocrisy

Then it is explained that some ideas and values ‚Äč‚Äčthat should be conveyed through religion are actually not that bad, if only there weren't the many hypocrites who preach one thing and do the other. But is that really the case? And: what do we actually mean when we speak of hypocrites?

What we Jews do not mean, in any case, is that synonym that found its way into our vocabulary around 1,900 years ago and which is based on a widespread prejudice: that of the Pharisee. The term is still used today as a prime example of the insincere and devious hypocrite. As a classic term for a complacent and arrogant hypocrite. However, this is historically completely wrong and the cause can be traced back to a denigration of the Pharisees by the New Testament and above all by the Gospel of Matthew.

In fact, the founders of another religion, split off from Judaism, then and through the centuries had one thing in mind above all else: to stigmatize and slander Judaism and its representatives in order to cement their own claim to truth and to maintain closeness to Judaism as the cradle and origin of Christianity deny.

moneyIn reality, the Pharisees were the scribes of the Second Temple period. They distinguished themselves in particular from the Sadducees, who as the temple aristocracy were increasingly corrupted by money and power over time, and found the support of the common people.

And while the Sadducees strictly followed the wording of the Torah and placed the temple and sacrificial service at the center of their faith, the Pharisees insisted on recognizing both the written and the oral Torah and the traditions handed down with it as binding. They were not satisfied with the mere wording of the law, but researched, interpreted and discussed it in the light of oral traditions. It was they who kept the Jewish law alive even after the destruction of the Second Temple by transforming and evolving it and making it valid beyond the central shrine in Jerusalem. They were the founding fathers of rabbinic Judaism, whose followers eventually wrote the oral Torah and summarized the rabbinical discourses, debates and discussions in the magnum opus of Judaism, the Talmud.

WikipediaBut back to the original question: what do we mean by a hypocrite? Wikipedia, the Internet encyclopedia, describes the term as follows: The main characteristics of hypocrisy are the pretense of non-existent feelings or states of mind and the demand for forms of behavior that are not adhered to. This is often illustrated with the pictorial saying: "Publicly preach water and secretly drink wine". Hypocrisy in this sense is also referred to as hypocrisy or double standards.

Now this description offers a relatively clear picture - at least in theory - but in practice the question of whether someone is a hypocrite is sometimes much more difficult to answer. Ultimately, the judgment as to whether someone is a hypocrite or not depends on a number of different factors: What does religious law ask of us? What and who preaches observance of the law? Are you already considered hypocritical if you cannot meet the high demands of faith with ultimate consistency and in all cases? And finally, does that mean that if you are unable to obey all of them at all times and in every situation, you'd better avoid complying with regulations altogether?

MitzvotLaw-abiding Judaism is in any case aware of the danger and the sometimes fatal external effects that result from Jews, who are outwardly recognizable as orthodox and who in individual cases, for whatever reasons, do not meet the requirements of Jewish legislation. Precisely for this reason and in the knowledge that the human being is simply not perfect, Orthodox Judaism provides a system of rules that regulate the entire life in detail on the basis of the 613 do's and don'ts, from getting up to going to bed .

For a person who insists on his individualism, this may often seem strange and a pure restriction, but in fact a system was created in this way that reduces the deviation from law and implementation, from ideal and reality, from claim and reality to the lowest conceivable value reduce addiction. It is a system based on the knowledge that human instinct, the animalistic, the egoistic, the personal need dominate, unless they are consistently reminded of their destiny in this world and their obligation to Gd and his fellow human beings .

A person's character is not formed in the few great moments in life, but rather through the countless processes and challenges that we are confronted with every day. In these situations, our identity is formed, our character is refined, and it is important to demonstrate integrity. And that is precisely the reason why the many everyday processes in Judaism are so meticulously regulated. Be it the question of which shoe is put on first or what and how can be eaten. Be it questions of business ethics or interpersonal relationships. Be it questions of dress style or sexual intercourse. Be it questions of an ethical lifestyle or the relationship to God.

And if you are not able to meet all the legal requirements, although you can be recognized as a Jew, i.e. for everyone to identify yourself visibly with the Jewish religion and its rules, ideals and values. Do you then become a hypocrite?

StandardsCertainly not, because Judaism sets extremely high standards. We know we are fallible. We know we are not perfect. We also know that life is not all made up of extremes. Not just black or white. There is no "all-or-nothing principle" here.

A Jew is always on the way. Some are still at the beginning and some are already well advanced, but we will never get there. From a Jewish point of view, life is a constant development. We are constantly called upon to bring our actions in line with our ideals, to document our integrity through actions that are visible to the outside world. To train and perfect our character and to achieve a positive change in the outside world and our fellow human beings through our actions.

Incidentally, as far as I know, there is no one today who, in the interests of other religions, constantly and constantly urges us to keep our commandments. In the past, this task was taken over by the prophets who tried to bring the people of Israel back to the path of the Torah and who demanded that the commandments be obeyed. But I do not know of an equivalent that would have continued this tradition to the same extent after the end of the era of the prophets.

Nevertheless, there are cases in which Jewish people are perceived as hypocrites or hypocrites. In which their appearance, their style of clothing, their demands cannot be reconciled with their behavior. Is that now to be condemned per se? And wouldn't we want Judaism free from hypocrites? Yes and no. It would certainly be a noble idea if everyone could and would behave in accordance with the law in every life situation. But that is unrealistic in view of human imperfection. But at least Judaism makes it unmistakably clear through its laws, its ideals and its norms of behavior what it demands of its followers. And what would the alternative be anyway?

SystemsThere are certainly social systems whose moral and ethical standards and behavioral requirements are so low or do not even exist that hypocrisy practically no longer occurs. In which one is no longer able to judge the behavior of people based on certain guidelines because these binding guidelines no longer exist. But is that really an alternative worth striving for? Do we really want to live in a system whose demands on its members are so low that hypocrisy no longer seems possible? At least I don't.

Then I'd rather take Judaism - with its extremely high standards. Standards that, if strictly followed, lead to a just and responsible society. To a world in which equality, humanity and peace prevail. Am I now a hypocrite because I am unable to keep all the commandments that Judaism holds in store, even though I occasionally write about them in newspapers? Others have to decide. In any case, I see myself on the right track. And that is also known to be the goal.

Daniel Neumann

Director of the State Association of Jewish Communities in Hesse



(Image source: Juedische-Allgemeine.de)