By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, October 28, 2009

Whereas the word hypocrisy has its roots in the Greek for play-acting, the Hebrew tzeviut derives from tzevah, which means colour or dye. A tzavua person dyes him or herself to give off a false appearance.

The Talmudic term for hypocrite is tocho aino kevoro — one’s inside (toch) is not the same as one’s outside (bar). In the Talmud (Yoma 72b), Rava proclaims that whoever does not meet the standard of tocho kevoro is not considered a talmid hacham, a wise student.

The value of one’s inner life matching one’s outer appearance is learned from the biblical instructions (Exodus 25:11) to coat the ark containing the Decalogue in pure gold, both inside and out (see right). Anything or anyone who houses the Torah must be consistent in their values.

Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, however, disagreed and allowed even those who had not yet reached the level of tocho kevoro to enter his academy. As a result, admissions rocketed and hundreds of new benches had to be installed in the study hall (Talmud, Berachot 27b).

Although modern Hebrew uses tzeviut as the equivalent of hypocrisy, the former bears the connotation of deliberate manipulation, of someone choosing to paint him or herself and fool other people and is a much stronger term of denunciation.

    Last updated: 5:16pm, October 28 2009