Lies, Surveys and Political Polls

Monday, April 08, 2019 |  David Lazarus

With the elections just 24 hours away, the Israeli media has ripped the lid off a pandora’s box of political polls, surveys and lies.

I don’t believe in these political polls. Why should I? Nobody asked me what I think. Nor did they ask my family or friends. Why should I listen to a poll that doesn’t care one bit about what I think?

The Hebrew Bible has it right when it uses the same word for polls and surveys as the word for lies. That’s right, and you heard it here first.

In Hebrew, the word for a poll or survey is seker. It is only used once in the Hebrew Bible in the prophecy of Isaiah where the women of Jerusalem are warned because: “The Daughters of Zion are haughty and walk about with outstretched necks and surveying eyes.” (Isa. 3:16) Seker means to look about, to gaze or survey the situation.

Isaiah back around 730 BCE criticizes the women of Jerusalem with extremely harsh words for the way they looked about “making eyes,” only to use what they saw to satisfy their own ungodly behavior. He goes on to rebuke them for their enticing dress and seductive charms. (Isa. 3:17-26)

The Jewish sages of old asked why God created woman from Adam’s rib and not his head. So that she wouldn’t think too highly of herself, they claimed. And why not from his heart? So that she wouldn’t become overly jealous. And why not from his mouth? I will leave that one for you to guess. But also, not from his eyes, so that she wouldn’t become overly curious or a busybody (sakranit, same Hebrew root). Which, according to Isaiah 3, the women of Jerusalem were at times.

God created woman from a rib, the sages concurred, because it is the part of our body that is always covered up, which speaks of modesty, a common biblical exhortation for our daughters. How interesting that in this same passage from Isaiah where just this one time the word survey (seker) appears, the prophet goes on to warn the Daughters of Zion that their fancy clothing is way too much. He actually describes twenty different types of dress and jewelry the women were wearing in inappropriate ways. Was the prophet doing a bit too much “surveying” of the situation himself?!

And as we mentioned, in the Bible, but also now in modern Hebrew, the word for surveys and polls is the same word for lies. (A note to our Hebrew scholars: A lie, or sheker, is spelt with a right-sided shin, while to survey, seker, with a samekh. According to Prof. Avshalom Kor, Israel’s premier linguist and expert on Hebrew grammar and semantics, the single use of the right-handed shin in Isaiah’s sheker means “survey” and not lie. He also points out that a left-sided shin, or sin, and samech are interchangeable in many Hebrew words in both biblical and Talmudic writings, thus Kor’s conclusion that “to survey” and “to lie” come from the same root.)

Are polls lies? I still remember the polls that were absolutely sure that Shimon Peres would beat Netanyahu but were completely wrong. In Hebrew we say that “lies have no feet” meaning they won’t get you anywhere. Maybe all these polls won’t either. Some people love to fool the polls when they give their answer. Anyway, the propaganda purpose of political polls is palpable.

“Keep far away from a false matter” (sheker) says Exodus 23:7. Perhaps in modern times we should apply that as “Keep yourself from polls” (seker).

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