The Torah tells us in Parshas Mishpatim (Shemos 23:7) “Midvar sheker tirchak – Distance yourself from any falsehood.” A lie is never to be tolerated, as this world stands on three things: proper justice, truth and peace. There is never anything to be gained by telling falsehoods, especially where it might be testimony against one’s fellow that is utterly false.
Yet we find two instances of white lies that are sanctioned in the Torah. One (Bereishis 18:10 – 14) relates to Sarah’s reaction to the wayfarer’s (actually the angels) informing Avraham that he and Sarah will have a child. She laughed and said: “Is such possible as I am old and my husband is old.”
Hashem responded to Avraham, asking why did Sarah say that she is old; is there anything that Hashem can’t do? But He omitted her referring to Avraham as being old. Hashem did so to maintain the peace and tranquility of their household.
We find as well that Hillel (Avos 1:12) says, “Be of the students of Aharon Hakohen: love peace, pursue peace love Hashem’s people and draw them closer to Torah.”
Avos D’rav Nosson (12:3) explains this trait of Aharon. When he would find two people who formerly were friends and in the midst of a dispute, he would approach each side and tell them how much the other regretted their actions. When they would finally meet, they would hug each other and forget the entire earlier dispute. He did the same when he heard a husband and wife were bickering with each other. Not only did he bring peace, but many baby boys who were born were named Aharon in his honor.
If the lie is such that it promotes a final result that is beneficial to society and to the specific disputants, then go lie. It does not matter what you call it; just do it. But don’t take that as a wholesale permission to lie in other matters, even seemingly small ones. Here’s an everyday example: telling someone that a certain product lacks soy when it really does have soy in it, and the person could be allergic to soy. Not only is it a lie, but possibly a deadly one.
A white lie, if it can pass the test as one that benefits the individuals involved, then all is well.
– Rabbi Yaakov Klass is chairman of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America; rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn; and Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at [email protected] and [email protected].
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According to Webster’s Dictionary, a white lie is “a lie about a small or unimportant matter that someone tells to avoid hurting another person.” According to this definition, it is certainly proper to tell a white lie. The gemara in Masechet Yevamot 65b states that not only may one lie for the sake of peace, but sometimes it is a mitzvah to lie for the sake of peace. Certainly, then, it is proper to lie to avoid hurting someone. Additionally, the Sema (Choshen Mishpat, Hilchot Ona–ah 228:6) rules that even though you may not urge someone to dine with you if you know that he is unavailable, as this would constitute the prohibition of geneivat da-at (deception), you may ask him once or twice to dine with you if he would feel bad if he wasn’t invited.
That being said, the Orchot Tzaddikim (Sha–ar 22) writes whenever we have a halachic dispensation to lie for some higher goal, if we can achieve the same goal without lying then we should not lie. Moreover, the Yam Shel Shlomo (Yevamot 6:46) rules that we may lie only in isolated situations but we should not put ourselves in a situation when we will constantly need to lie. The reason for these two limitations is that lying even for a permissible purpose can negatively increase our tendency to lie when it is forbidden to do so.
Finally, based on the gemara in Masechet Sukkah 46b, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach rules that we should not have young children lie, even if the goal is a lofty one. Only individuals who fully understand the importance of truth may utilize the halachic dispensation to lie for a more important value.
– Rabbi Jonathan Muskat is the rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside, a rebbe at Shulamith High School, and a pastoral health care liaison at Mount Sinai South Nassau.
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It certainly is permitted to tell a white lie, and there are some situations where it is even a mitzvah. As one example, for shalom one is allowed to lie. If one can avoid lying, one should try, but if one has no other way to keep the peace, they are allowed to say even a bold-faced lie.
However, this is a very problematic issue, particularly in our day. We live in a time where we are bombarded with messages that are very far from the truth. We are so accustomed to advertising and people selling things, the average consumer will hear or see thousands of messages a day and very few of them are the truth, the whole truth or nothing but the truth. Quite the opposite. They’re filled with falseness and implications that are not accurate, trying to convince you that their service/product is better than it really is, will make you happier than you will ever be, and it is something that you really need. Living in a society where we are constantly bombarded with falseness, with lies, even a white lie is something that I am very hesitant to recommend.
Again, there are times when it is needed, necessary and permitted, but it is something that a person has to use very guardedly, because there is a natural propensity to expand that and to use it and before you know it you are becoming very false in your dealings. It is a heter, a permissive act, that one has to use on the right time, in the right way and the right circumstances, and be very guarded in its use and be careful not to overuse it.
– Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier is founder of The Shmuz and author of 10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make (available at theshmuz.com).
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The primacy of truth is a fundamental tenet of Judaism. The Sages teach us that “the seal of the Holy One, Blessed is He, is Truth.” The Gemara describes a town called Kushta in which nobody ever lied and, as a result, nobody ever died young. The residents of Kushta had a fanatical commitment to truth-telling that made normal social life very difficult. In one instance, a man who uttered a harmless white lie out of a sense of propriety and modesty was immediately banished from the city, for fear of punishment being visited upon its inhabitants.
The whole point of the story of Kushta may be that this kind of blind devotion to absolute honesty is unrealistic for mere mortals. After all, the halacha permits us to take liberties with the truth when being too straightforward would bring us into conflict with other core values like peace, harmony, humility, or human dignity. But these cases must be understood as exceptions to the rule. It is critical that we not desensitize ourselves to falsehood and that we not allow casual lying to become the norm. As the Rambam writes, even though there are occasional halakhic justifications for “white lies” a person should strive for the ideal of “truthful speech, an honest spirit, and a heart pure from all deceit and trickery.”
Ultimately, it is through knowledge of and dedication to the truth that we draw closer to Hashem. Falsehood creates a barrier between us and G-d, as the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “You dwell amidst deceit, and because of deceit you have refused to know Me, says Hashem.”
– Rabbi Joshua Maroof received semicha from Yeshiva Bnei Torah in Far Rockaway, NY, and has a Masters in Educational Psychology from CUNY. For seven years prior to making aliyah, he served as one of the rabbis of the Mashadi Community in Great Neck, NY, and as head of their Sephardic Bet Midrash. He currently resides in Carmei Gat, Israel, with his wife Elana and their six children. His lectures, shiurim and writings can be found online on soundcloud.com under Yeshivat Death VeHaskel and at http://www.ydvh.org.