Thursday, October 27, 2005

What Is A Kofer?

A Jew who says he doesn't believe in G-d is called a kofer. To appreciate the implications of this word, we should see how it is examined in other contexts. In monetary law, for example, a kofer is a defendant who lies about his financial obligations. He himself knows the truth, but he is trying to deceive others. So too, a Jew who says he does not believe is doing his best to fool the world, but he himself knows the truth.

The root meaning of the word kofer is "to cover". We see this from the word kapores, which was the cover on the Aron Kodesh, the Holy Ark, in the Beis Ha-Mikdash. Even the word kapparah, "atonement", is related, since through the process of atonement, sin is covered and concealed. Similarly, a Jewish kofer is a person who "covers up" the reality of his own being. For, in essence, he to is a believer.

The deepest implications of a word are often revealed by the way it is used in the Torah the first time. The word kofer first appears when Hashem tells Noach to build the ark - "you shall smear it, on the inside and the outside, with a layer of tar." Thus we discover that the word kofer means a thin, external coating - a veneer. In other words, a Jewish kofer is a person who has covered himself with a thin layer of disbelief. But if you look just beneath the surface, you will find a believer.

(Rabbi Moshe Wolfson)