I boarded a Jerusalem bus and handed a ten-shekel coin to the driver. He weighed it in his palm, and returned it to me with the word, "mezuyaf."
"What?" I asked, confused. I had never heard this Hebrew word before.
"Mezuyaf! Mezuyaf!" he barked at me, as if by increasing his volume I would understand.
A twentysomething Israeli man standing in line behind me decided to expedite matters. "Mezuyaf means that the coin is fake," he translated.
"It's counterfeit?" I asked, abashed. Quickly I rummaged in my purse for another ten-shekel coin and paid my fare. I found a seat; the young Israeli man sat down across the aisle from me.
I asked him if he had a ten-shekel coin. I wanted to compare it to my counterfeit coin, which looked perfectly good to me. He did. I examined both coins carefully and could see no difference. The young man held one in each hand and announced, "The fake one is slightly lighter."
Never having owned counterfeit money before, I was amazed. The ten-shekel coin is made of two different metals, one encircling the other. "How did they do such a good counterfeiting job?" I wondered.
"It's not so hard," the young man answered. "A few months ago the police found someone in Talpiot [a Jerusalem neighborhood] who was printing fake 100 shekel bills." Then, looking pointedly at my kerchief, which identified me as religious, he added: "And the guy was religious."
"Well, obviously he wasn't religious," I rejoined. "The Torah prohibits stealing."
"No, but he was dati [religious]," the man insisted, not getting my drift. "He wore a kippah, and he dressed in religious garb."
"If you saw a man with a kippah eating shrimp, would you call him 'religious'?" I asked rhetorically. "Obviously not. A religious person by definition obeys the laws of the Torah. Well, just as the Torah prohibits eating shrimp, it prohibits stealing, which includes counterfeiting money. A person who steals may wear a kippah, but he's not religious."
The Israeli fellow thought about this. Then he broke into a smile of recognition. "I get it. He's mezuyaf."
Some Jews give as a reason for not becoming observant that they know a "religious" Jew who cheats in business, or mistreats her children, or acts meanly to his neighbor. They are correct to expect those who claim to be religious to behave with honesty, kindness, and integrity. God expects the same. But I wonder why no one ever rejected Socialism because Karl Marx was a mean and abusive person who exploited the only worker he knew, nor Existentialism because Sartre was an egotistical, promiscuous male chauvinist.
People will adulate -- and imitate -- writers, philosophers, political theorists, and college professors without subjecting their behavior to any moral scrutiny whatsoever.
Of course, one may protest that, unlike religion, whose very basis is morality, one doesn't have to be a moral human being for his political or scientific ideas to be true. Such was the contention of Bertrand Russell, for example.
The story is told of Russell that while he was a Professor of Ethics at Harvard he was carrying on an adulterous affair. Since it was decades before the sexual revolution, Harvard's Board of Governors called Russell in and censured him. Russell maintained that his private affairs had nothing to do with the performance of his professional duties.
"But you are a Professor of Ethics!" one of the Board members remonstrated.
"I was a Professor of Geometry at Cambridge," Russell rejoined, "but the Board of Governors never asked me why I was not a triangle."
A basic fallacy underlies Russell's position. If the quality of integrity is absent in the person, how can it be present in his or her ideas?
Ideas shape our lives. How can we not scrutinize the lives of those who shape our ideas?
The claim that one's ideas are not contaminated by one's moral failures, especially for those who seek to remold society by their ideas, is hazardous. Ideas -- whether they are religious, sociological, political, or scientific -- must come from a source who is, minimally, committed to truth more than the propagation of his own ideology. If a man lies to his wife, how can you trust his philosophical contentions? If a woman fudges on her income tax, how can you be sure that she is not fudging on the results of her sociological experiments, or picking and choosing the results which corroborate her theories?
Ideas shape our lives. How can we not scrutinize the lives of those who shape our ideas?
Ironically, while the term "hypocrite" is usually hurled at those who claim to be religious, some of the greatest hypocrites of modern times were the progenitors of the most anti-religious movements. In this essay we will focus on Karl Marx, whose ideas literally changed the world, and Lillian Hellman, who was the goddess of the New Left.
Both Marx and Hellman were born Jewish, and both of them had a profound effect on the Jewish population of the last century.
The ideology of Communism swept the Russian Jewish world. The first Politburo immediately after the Russian Revolution had a Jewish majority. Within a decade, these Jewish Communists brutally destroyed all practice of Judaism in Russia. Jewish Socialists in America and Israel also actively fought against Jewish religious practices. America's Workmen's Circle held their annual banquet on Yom Kippur.
All these Communists and Socialists were loyal followers of Marx, who had branded religion, "the opiate of the masses." How worthy was Marx himself to command such an army of believers?
Marx based his whole economic theory on the plight of the proletariat. Yet he himself was a middle-class intellectual who disdained the working class and sequestered himself for decades inside the British Library in lieu of direct observation of the conditions he railed against. According to historian Paul Johnson, "So far as we know Marx never set foot in a mill, factory, mine or other industrial workplace in the whole of his life." 1
Marx claimed that his economic theories were "scientific." In his time, no less than today, the claim "scientific" was the greatest endorsement possible. After all, what reasonable person could argue with the objective findings of science?
Marx's distortion of the scientific method was to search through thousands of volumes in the British Library, picking and choosing those statistics, sometimes long outdated, which bolstered his already-formed theories. Again to quote Johnson: "The problem, as it appeared to Marx, was to find the right kind of facts: the facts that fitted... He was not interested in finding the truth but in proclaiming it." 2
Karl Jaspers makes the same point: "[Marx's] whole approach is one of vindication, not investigation, but it is a vindication of something proclaimed as the perfect truth with the conviction not of the scientist but of the believer." 3
Marx not only omitted facts which ran counter to his theories, but also was guilty of distorting, falsifying, and misquoting information which contradicted his contentions. The most glaring case occurred in his Inaugural Address to the International Working Men's Association, in September, 1864. Marx quoted W.E. Gladstone's budget speech of the previous year, in which Gladstone in fact lauded the increase in Britain's national wealth because it benefited all classes of British society. Marx misquoted Gladstone as saying, "This intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power is entirely confined to classes of property."
Marx's flagrant misquotation was pointed out to him, but he repeated it in his magnum opus Das Kapital.
Marx's worst hypocrisy lay in the sphere of his character and values.
Marx's worst hypocrisy lay in the sphere of his character and values. Over the last century, millions of young Jews in Europe and America have rallied around Socialism and Communism as the system of ultimate compassion. After all, Marxism's chief concern was with the plight of the poor, dispossessed working people. Jews have perceived it as a modern-day version of the Biblical Prophets, a clarion call to share wealth with society's unfortunates.
But Marx himself was contemptuous of simple, uneducated, working class people. In many personal interactions with them, he displayed a vicious temper, heaping abuse on men who did not have the verbal skills to defend themselves. Often given to outbursts of violent anger against any Communist who disagreed with him, Marx had a habit of saying, "I will annihilate you."4
Marx is perhaps the most chilling example of how the moral failings of an ideologue corrupt his ideas and all the movements and institutions which issue from his ideas. Marx's whole goal was to save the proletariat, but the Communist regimes in the Soviet Union and China, founded on his principles, wantonly murdered tens of millions of peasants and workers. It is as if the irascibility and violence of Marx himself insinuated itself into the embryo of Communism; as the organism grew, so did its bent for dogmatism and violence. Stalin and Mao were able to actualize Marx's vain threats; they annihilated millions.
Nowhere was Marx's hypocrisy more evident than in his personal life. The champion of the working class knew well only one working class person: Helen Demuth, the maid who worked for his family. Marx, who railed against the exploitation of the workers, exploited his only worker both financially and sexually. In the forty-five years Helen worked for the Marx family, he never paid her a penny. She received only room and board, which for several years was as meager for her as for Marx's unfortunate wife and children.
In 1849-50, while the family plus servant were living in a two-room flat, Marx started an intimate relationship with Helen and got her pregnant. He refused to admit that the child, a son named Freddy, was his, and had him put out as a foster child. As Freddy grew up, he was permitted to visit his mother in the Marx's kitchen, but was forbidden to use the front door. The man who claimed compassion for millions of oppressed workers never spoke a word to his own working class son.
As a college student in the late sixties, I, like half the student body at Brandeis, was a political activist of the New Left. Our pantheon included Lillian Hellman, Norman Mailer, Noam Chomsky, Jerry Rubin, and Abbie Hoffman. All of our idols were Jews who had rejected Judaism in favor of a movement which was regarded as more progressive, universal, compassionate, and liberal.
I particularly idolized Lillian Hellman. She was the writer I wanted to be: politically savvy, totally dedicated to her ideals, and action-oriented. In the 1977 movie Julia, based on her autobiography Pentimento, Hellman was portrayed by Jane Fonda. I was inflamed by the character of Hellman: typing away furiously in her cottage by the sea, risking her life to travel to Nazi-occupied Austria to help her friend Julia, a society girl who lost her leg working for the anti-Nazi underground.
Hellman's autobiography was nothing but self-aggrandizing lies.
Only in 1984, did the truth emerge: Hellman's autobiography was nothing but self-aggrandizing lies. A woman similar to Julia indeed existed, but Hellman had never once met her, let alone conspired with her.
Revelations about Hellman's mendacity were compounded by disclosures about her avarice. This champion of the poor and downtrodden had amassed a fortune of some $4,000,000, much of it through legal trickery and contentious law suits against those who could not afford what Johnson calls "the posse of lawyers" which Hellman kept at her beck and call.
Behind her veneer of public compassion for humanity, Hellman had a private record of scorn and abuse toward individual human beings. As Johnson records: "She would spit in a man's face, scream abuse, smash him on the head with her handbag. At Martha's Vineyard the fury with which she assailed those who crossed her garden to the beach was awesome." 5
Of course, human beings are fallible, and for all but the best of us there is a considerable gap between our ideals and our performance. The difference, however, between a fallible human being and a hypocrite is the humble admission, "I blew it."
The difference between a fallible human being and a hypocrite is the humble admission, "I blew it."
Ideologues are wont to publicize their ideas while hiding their deeds. They tend to insist that their ideas be judged in a behavioral vacuum. In fact, all human beings are holograms. Just as the complete hologram of a human figure is present in every part of the hologram, every particle of the fingernail or earlobe, so too who a human being is pervades all that she thinks, says, or does. A mean person cannot originate a humane philosophy; a mendacious person cannot teach ultimate Truth.
This is precisely why Torah is such an all-encompassing system of behavior. The 613 mitzvot of the Torah obligate Jews in every single aspect of life: in business relationships as well as sexual relationships; in what one eats as well as what one says; in how one must treat one's God, spouse, children, upstairs neighbor, enemy, client, and the mechanic who fixes one's car.
What has often been criticized as the Torah's picayune approach stems from the recognition that it is in the fine details of living that one's character is developed and tested. What one says on the telephone is more important than what one says from the podium. Rigorous honesty in handling money is more important than promulgating grandiose economic theories. Helping your neighbor who is struggling with her bags of groceries is more important than espousing social platforms.
Because Torah is a comprehensive system of behavior, "Torah giants" are distinguished not only by their intellect, but by their actions -- all their actions. The following story is typical of those who devote their lives to practicing Torah: When America's leading 20th century sage, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, died, a black cleaning woman from the hospital where he had been treated appeared at the funeral. When asked why she had come, she replied, "Every day the old Rabbi would inquire how I was and what was going on with me. And he would listen with sincere interest. He was the only patient in the hospital who ever paid so much attention to me."
Rabbi Feinstein puts Karl Marx to shame.
1 Paul Johnson, Intellectuals (New York: Harper and Row, 1988), p. 60
2 Johnson, p. 62.
3 Karl Jaspers, "Marx und Freud," Der Monat, xxvi (1950).
4 Robert Payne, Marx (London, 1968), p. 155.
5 Johnson, p. 301.