Home
In this issue

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 May 22, 2006 / 24 Iyar, 5766

Intention to mislead

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


Printer Friendly Version

Email this article

In representing my firm, can I tell a white lie?


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: My industry research for my consulting firm requires me to call up companies to ask about their businesses. In order to allay suspicions about my motives, I tell them I am a student studying their industry. Can I continue with this practice?


A: Jewish law takes a very negative view of misleading practices. The legal term we use is geneivas da'as, or "stealing judgment." The terminology reveals the underlying ethical judgment: that misleading others is akin to stealing from them.


Even passive misleading is condemned. The Talmud tells the story of the great Talmudic sage Mar Zutra who set out for the town of Machoza. On the way he met two distinguished scholars, Rava and Rav Safra, and told them how honored he was that they took the trouble to come and greet him on the way.


Rav Safra gently disabused Mar Zutra of his mistake, saying: "Of course if we had known you were coming we would have taken even more trouble." Rava then explained that it was unnecessary to make an explanation, since Mar Zutra had no real basis to think they were coming to greet him. But if the circumstances really had pointed to this conclusion, there would have been an obligation to make clear to Mar Zutra that they hadn't exerted themselves on his behalf, to avoid creating a false sense of obligation and gratitude towards them. (1)


It's true that an occasional "white lie" is sanctioned. The school of Hillel teach that we should always praise the bride at a wedding, calling her "comely and charming." The opposing academy of Shammai objected: The Torah tells us "Distance yourself from falsehood!" (Exodus 23:7) The students of Hillel explain that she is certainly comely and charming in the eyes of the groom, so there is no misleading here. (2)


Likewise, our tradition tells us that Aaron used to make peace between feuding neighbors or spouses by telling each one that the other is sorry for his behavior and anxious to make peace. In the end, Aaron's story became self-fulfilling and the two sides would be reconciled. (3)


However, there are several important differences between these cases and your question. The main difference is that in the cases of Hillel and Aaron, the "white lie" is actually for the benefit of the person being misled. The bride is happy to hear herself praised, and the neighbors are happy to be reconciled. This is much different than your case, where the misleading statement is meant only for your own benefit.

Donate to JWR


Another difference is that your practice is habitual. The Talmud tells the story of Rav, who had a strained relationship with his wife. Often when he would make a request, she would do exactly the opposite. When he began to relay requests through their son Chiya, Rav's wife began to respect his requests. When Rav mentioned this to his son, Chiya corrected him, explaining that he reversed the requests! Rav praised his son's sensitivity but instructed him not to continue, since this was an ongoing practice and could accustom and inure him to untruth. (4) He quoted the reproof of the prophet Jeremiah (9:4): "And each one mocks his fellow, and truth they tell not; they accustomed their tongue to falsehood, they are weary from iniquity."


Since you work for a large firm, this practice is almost certainly forbidden by your employer's code of ethics, which is binding for you. Virtually all large firms today have explicit clauses forbidding this kind of action. For example, the code of ethics of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals requires members "To accurately disclose all relevant information, including one's identity and organization, prior to all interviews."


It seems to me that this practice is not only improper, but also counterproductive. The companies you contact are obviously suspicious that your call is from a competitor or muckraker or the like. A vague explanation that you are an "interested student" probably does little to allay their fears. It's not like you say, "My name is Shira Schwarz and I'm an MBA student at Shlepp State University, doing a paper on your industry." If you were to clearly identify your name, your firm, and your objective, making clear that you are only a researcher and not an adversary, you would do much more to reassure them. A letter from your firm's secure server, together with a cc to some responsible individual, will go a long way to convince them that you are on the up and up.


Try also to make the subject a beneficiary of their participation. For example, promise to provide them with some of the results of your research. Our Center does much research, and when we ask companies for information, we generally promise to send them afterwards a brief summary of our findings.


SOURCES:(1) Babylonian Talmud, Chullin 94b. (2) Babylonian Talmud, Kesubos 17a (3) Avos deRebbe Nosson chapter 12 (4) Babylonian Talmud, Yevamos 63a.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes inspiring articles. Sign up for our daily update. It's free. Just click here.

THE JEWISH ETHICIST, NOW IN BOOK FORM

You've enjoyed his columns on JWR for years. Now the Jewish Ethicist has culled his most intriguing — and controversial — offerings in book form.
HARDCOVER
PAPERBACK
Sales help fund JWR.



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.


Previously:

Defrauding insurance to save a life
Can top level management unilaterally give away money to corporate dollars to charity?
Loans to Family Members
How much worker supervision is too much?
Should I turn in a colleague for inappropriate acts?
Priority in charitable giving
Trolls and ogres
How many hours of work is too many?
Can I promote my product by having it unobtrusively written into a story?
He's not heavy he's my brother
All's fair in war?, II
All's fair in war?
Girth vs. worth
Is it proper to tax bequests?
Ethics of Being Overweight
Penalized for working swiftly
When is it a bluff?
'Rate and switch'
My paycheck is late!
Should schools cater to an elite?
All's fair in love?
Comfort and Competition
Do I need the caller's permission to put a call on the speakerphone?
Overtime for lost time
Is it unethical to play suppliers against each other to get the lowest bid possible?
Do family members have precedence in charity allotments?
What the world of business can teach us about our annual process of repentance and renewal
Are religious leaders subject to criticism?
Vindictive Vendor: How can I punish an abusive competitor?
Blogging Ethics: Is the blogger responsible for defamatory posts?







© 2005, The Jewish Ethicist is produced by the JCT Center for Business Ethics