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December 2, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review July 28, 2008 /25 Tamuz 5768

How and when to lie

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: When an important customer calls, it's awkward for me to say I'm busy. So I tell my secretary to tell the caller I'm out or in a meeting. Is this an acceptable "white lie"?


A: Our tradition has a seemingly conflicted view of so-called "white lies," which are meant to smooth over social situations. (Lying to obtain undeserved personal benefit is considered fraud.) In some passages, we find this practice to be sanctioned and even favored; in others it is barely tolerated. Let us see if we can find a coherent message in these seemingly conflicting passages.

In general, such "social lies" are considered a last resort, an unfortunate necessity. One example is the story of the Talmudic sage Rav and his son Chiya. Rav had a strained relationship with his wife, and she would often do the opposite of what he requested. Their son Chiya eventually learned to relay the father's requests to the wife in an altered way that helped restore harmony. When the father eventually learned of this, he praised the son's wisdom but instructed him not to continue with this practice. Since this alteration was habitual, it carried a danger of accustoming the son to bending the truth. (1)

Another is the story of the land of "Kushta". The Talmud relates a parable of a land called Kushta (the Aramaic word for "truth") where no one ever lies, and no one dies before their time. When a visitor inadvertently tells a neighbor that his wife is not home, in order not to embarrass her by stating that she is washing her hair, he is visited by a terrible tragedy. (2) The message seems to be that such social lies, while permissible in our social reality, are an unfortunate necessity of a world accustomed to untruth.

However, in a few cases we find that alterations are totally acceptable. Here is one passage:

Rabbi Ilaa said in the name of Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Shimon: It is permissible to alter [the truth] for the sake of peace, as it is written (Genesis 50:16-17) "Your father commanded before his death, saying, Thus say to Joseph: Please bear the wrongdoing of your brothers and their sin." [Yet Jacob did not actually make this command.]... The students of Rabbi Yishmael taught, Great is peace, for even the Holy One blessed be He altered [the truth] for its sake, as it is originally written [Sarah exclaimed on hearing she would give birth] "My master is old", yet later it is written [that when God reported the incident to Abraham He changed it to] "I am grown old". (3)

Here the behavior of God Himself in saving Abraham's feelings is viewed as an example for human emulation.

The following passage is well-known:

How do we dance before the bride [and praise her]? The academy of Shammai say, the bride as she is [we praise whatever good qualities we genuinely perceive]. And the academy of Hillel say, "A lovely and gracious bride". The academy of Shammai said to the academy of Hillel, And what if the bride is lame or blind, you say to her "lovely and gracious"? And the Torah says (Exodus 23) "Distance yourself from falsehood". The academy of Hillel said to the academy of Shammai, "If someone makes a poor buy in the marketplace, would you praise it to them or disparage it to them?" (4)

The academy of Hillel point out that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; the person who bought the item evidently liked it, and the groom evidently finds his bride lovely and gracious. This is not an occasional subterfuge but a general instruction that the guests should praise the bride.

If we look carefully, we can see a difference between the cases that are tolerated and those that are encouraged. Both cases where the modification is accepted are cases where it is made for the benefit of the person being misled: to avoid making Abraham feel old and disdained, and to avoid making the bride feel unattractive. Both cases where it is merely tolerated are those where a person makes the change for the benefit of someone else: Chiya bar Rav for his father, the guest in Kushta for his wife.

While "social dissembling" may sometimes be necessary to salvage social relations, the temptation to make this a habit is very great. So in this case the behavior is barely tolerated. But when it is done for the benefit of the person being spoken to, and particularly when it is matter of judgment and not something objective as in the case of the beautiful bride, we can be more lenient.

In your case the misleading is meant for your own benefit, and furthermore it is not really social in nature but rather commercial. One possible solution is for the secretary to always avoid giving too many details. Even when you are truly in a meeting, he can say merely that you are "unavailable"; then this description will not be interpreted as meaning "he is too busy for you". With a little forethought, almost all social lies can be avoided, particularly in a business context.

SOURCES: (1) Babylonian Talmud, Yevamos 63a (2) Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97a (3) Babylonian Talmud Yevamos 65b (4) Babylonian Talmud, Kesubos 16b

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JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, formerly of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Jerusalem College of Technology. To comment or pose a question, please click here.

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