Lying Part II – Geneivat Da'at

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Lying is never permitted in the course of any type of transactions. Even passive lying or omitting the entire truth from a situation where the whole truth is essential in order to make a responsible business decision is also forbidden. This is known as “Geneivat Da’at” – giving mistaken impressions and allowing for false assumptions.[1] Frequently cited examples of this are inviting someone over for a meal knowing in advance that they will refuse[2] and misleading potential customers into thinking that the quality of an item is more superior than it really is.[3] Lying on Shabbat is considered to be exceptionally grave.[4] 

So too, it is forbidden to mislead someone into thinking that they are getting a special deal when they really aren’t.[5] The Talmud[6] tells the story of Rabbi Safra who was in the middle of praying when a person entered his store and wished to purchase a certain item. The man offered Rabbi Safra the precise amount of money for the item, but as Rabbi Safra was in the midst of praying, he didn’t answer. The customer, thinking he was being ignored due to the price he had offered, continued to raise the amount of money he was willing to pay in order to purchase the item. Eventually, when Rabbi Safra had finished his prayer he told the buyer that he would sell the item for the price he had first offered as in his heart really had accepted that first, lower offer. 

Although none of us are likely to reach the spiritual heights of Rabbi Safra, make no mistake; exaggerating, misleading, tricking, deceiving and all other terms related to giving another person the wrong impression are terrible qualities and are forbidden. Telling the boss that you are late for work due to a non-existing traffic jam falls perfectly under this category. Admit that you were late and that you’ll try harder next time!

Honesty is considered to be one of the greatest traits that a person can acquire for himself. So serious is lying or otherwise not keeping one’s word that it is one of the few things that God Himself extracts punishment for.[7] Even those who other may otherwise be lacking in spiritual merits are assured a place in the World-to-Come if they were honest in all their dealings in this world.[8]

(See part I here: link)


[1] Chullin 94a

[2] C.M. 228:6;Sma 8

[3] C.M. 228:6

[4] Yerushalmi Demai 4

[5] Bava Metzia 60a

[6] Makkot 24a

[7] Bava Metzia 48a

[8] Sefer Chassidim 395

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

17 comments

  1. I certainly agree with your general thrust, especially on a meta level (see my sister’s post here http://isramom.blogspot.com/2011/05/honoring-my-fathers-memory.html) and my yahrtzeit drasha on yesharim (available on request).

    However if you listen here: http://download.yutorah.org/2011/1025/760398/Parsha%20Shiur%20-%20Kedoshim%205771.MP3 you’ll find R”HS classifies don’t lie – is from imitato dei, but sometimes may be in conflict with other midot (e.g. humility).

    In your example for instance “Telling the boss that you are late for work due to a non-existing traffic jam falls perfectly under this category. Admit that you were late and that you’ll try harder next time!” i wonder if you know you will be fired and lose your entire parnassa, are yoy still required to do as you say.

    The humility case iiuc see b”m 23b
    תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא מציעא דף כג עמוד ב

    דאמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל: בהני תלת מילי עבידי רבנן דמשנו במלייהו: במסכת, ובפוריא,

    KT

  2. Nice post on your dad!

    Ari Enkin

  3. It might also be worth mentioning the understanding of “nasata v’natata b’emuna” presented by the Aruch Hashulchan (in Orach Chaim the siman after hilchot t’filla about going to work). He point sout that it doesn’t mean only did you do business without stealing, but could your word be relied on completely.

  4. And, geneivas da’as aku”m is also assur deOraisa. (CM 228:6)

    The question of balancing tact (“kalah na’ah vachasudah”), anavah, and other values against geneivas da’as is nicely played out in http://www.jewishvalues.us/uploads/104_Genevas_Daas.PDF .

    In general I think Linas haTzedek (www.jewishvalues.us) should be bookmarked by anyone who wants to take bein adam lachaveiro seriously. They have mare’eh meqomos suitable for running chaburos (been there done that) on numerous topics, giving the yeshiva bachur or alumnus the same feel for these mitzvos he has for other topics.

    -micha

  5. If you owe me money, may I lie about an underlying fact so that you will pay me? If I did work for you and are refusing to pay me the amount due, may I inflate the hours reported so that I can get you to “settle” and pay me that true amount that is due to me?

  6. R. Enkin: Thank you for this post. The more you post on Bein Adam L’Chavero, the better.

    Micha: Thanks for the pointers to jewishvalues.us (and, by implication, jvalues.com). They may have helpful materials there, but don’t you find it strange — and annoying — that they constantly spell their main concern “Hilchos Bein ADOM L’Chavero”? I haven’t read any of their material yet, but how accurate can they be if the authors have a problem distinguishing between a person and the color red? Or am I missing something here?

  7. Shalom Rosenfeld

    Clarification: the Rav Safra story is referenced indirectly on Makos 24a (“exemplify honesty — like Rav Safra”); the actual story appears in Rashi there, quoting the She’iltos.

  8. Why LI Reader: No transliteration of the qamatz is flawless, if one is sticking to shorter schemes of transliteration.

    ArtScroll’s “a” (which is what I tend to use) was criticized as being pseudo-Sepharadic — they have a sav, but make qamatz and patach look identical.

    Another common choice is “o”, eg “Shabbos”. Similarly, Lub publications tend to refer to “moshiach”, with an “o”. But “o” is also used for cholam.

    A third possibility is “u”, which causes confusion with shuruq. Either of the first two confusions at least have more grammatic basis and therefore cause semantic problems less often. Qamatz is the long vowel related to patach, but also is a close twin to the cholam-esque qamatz qatan.

    Back in the days NCSY invented their translation scheme, and in general this was common until sometime in the late 70s, many transliteration schemes used multiple letters for a vowel. Not just for tzeirei.

    So, cheereeq doesn’t look like a shiva, and since the i is freed up for shiva na, one isn’t using an apostrophe (alef? ayin?) or a segol-like “e”. Qaumatz is pretty clear, if somewhat Yekkish in implied sound.

    But in any case, I don’t find “adom” any more strange than “Shabbos”. Maybe because I knew already what word to expect and didn’t see red.

    -micha

  9. Point taken, Micha. That said, it always takes me longer to parse when someone speaks ashkenazis — and the same for writing.

    And I always remember the early feminists in my shtiebel when I was growing up who loudly said “Hee” when the Shatz said “Hu” 🙂

  10. Zalman –

    I’ve seen teshuvas both ways.

    Ari Enkin

  11. MiMedinat HaYam

    is cropping out a person from a picture (which history will record as iconic) called “genevat daat”?

  12. Micha, I think the problem is using A and O for the same vowel in the same word. I happen to disagree that this is a very reasonable signifier regarding the quality of the content, but if it’s distracting then it’s distracting.

  13. The post is silent on whether the domain being discussed is other Orthodox Jews, Jews or everyone with whom one does business. Thoughts?

  14. IH, I cited the Shulchan Arukh in my first comment. Geneivas daas is just as prohibited when the victim is not Jewish.

  15. Micha — the CJV handout you were kind enough to link is in my pile to read more closely (as is their website). I share your view, but sadly there appear to be others who disagree. Hence, my question was directed to R. Enkin, whom I believe should make this point explicit in his post.

  16. BTW, it is refreshing to see their honest assessment that in regard to Hilchot Bein Adam le’Chavero “while the concepts are familiar, many of the Halachos for practical observance are rarely studied, and remain unclear”.

  17. IH-

    ….of course I beleive that it applies to every human being. No exceptions.

    Ari Enkin

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