Emet

By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, November 5, 2008
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"Emet" means "truth." In strictly Orthodox circles, it's pronounced "emes," and used with strong emphasis in phrases such as "the emesdicke truth."

Truthfulness is a high value in Judaism. We run together the last words of the Shema, "the Lord your God" with the first word of the following prayer, "emet," to affirm, according to the Talmud, that "the seal of the Holy One is truth."

Sometimes, truth may seem to be in conflict with the requirements of chesed, "kindness" or "generosity."

The Midrash suggests it may be sometimes necessary to varnish the truth in order to make peace between husband and wife.

Based on the verses in Psalms, 85: 11-12, "Kindness and truth meet... truth shall spring up from the ground," the Midrash comments that the truth will always emerge, even when it is temporarily compromised for the sake of kindness.

This irrepressibility of truth is captured in a talmudic passage about the Hebrew letters (Shabbat 104a) The letters of "emet" - aleph, mem, tav, which all rest solidly on their foundations - are contrasted with the letters of "sheker," "falsehood," each of which teeters on a single point.

The Talmud moralises from this that truth endures while falsehood collapses.

We live in a time when truth is not held in high regard in our public life. The political culture of spin and plausible deniability contrives to make the truth retrospectively malleable. Post-modern critical theory questions the idea of truth altogether.

The Torah teaches that, making all allowances for human weakness and subjectivity, there is truth and we should strive to reach it.

    Last updated: 2:02pm, November 5 2008