Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicatedin the memory of

Asher Ben Haim

"Genevat Da'at" - Deception"

One must be on guard against the prohibition of "gnevat da'at," or deception. For example, it is forbidden to use an expression like, "I am opening this bottle of wine in your honor," when, in truth, you had at any rate intended to open the bottle.


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

1. A Deceptive Invitation
2. A Fictive Invitation
3. Borderline Cases
4.When Deception Is Permitted

A Deceptive Invitation
It occasionally happens that a visitor shows up just as one is preparing to sit down to a meal. The unknowing guest's only intention was to inquire as to his fellow's wellbeing, or to deliver a message, or perhaps just to ask a question before going on his way to go eat somewhere else. The host, though, unaware of his guest's plans, begins to feel uncomfortable. On the one hand, he senses that good manners calls for inviting his guest to sit down and eat with him, for if he does not do this he will appear inconsiderate. On the other hand, he really does not have the desire to begin troubling himself on behalf of the guest. In all truth, the host is somewhat unhappy about parting with his tasty food, especially considering that the unannounced guest is not exactly one of his close friends.
According to Jewish law, the host is faced with two possible courses of action. The first is to simply not invite the guest to eat. For, if he does ask the visitor to join him, he will be guilty of what Judaism calls "one in the mouth and another in the heart," i.e., saying one thing but thinking another: He says that he would like his fellow to stay, but in his heart he wishes that he would just leave. This, of course, is a lie. Therefore, it is preferable, if the host is not interested in his guest staying, that he simply not invite him. The other course of action, of course, is to change one's feelings - to make oneself truly desire the company of the guest, and then, honestly and without any reservation, to invite him to sit down and eat.
During the course of the meal, too, one must be on guard against the prohibition of "gnevat da'at" (lit. stealing the mind), i.e. deception of one's guest. For example, it is forbidden to use an expression like, "I have opened this bottle of wine in your honor," when in truth one had at any rate intended to open the bottle, or it was in fact already open. In addition, it is forbidden to claim that the wine is of high quality in order to cause his guest to feel grateful, when in fact the wine is not of particularly high quality.

A Fictive Invitation
From time to time the question arises: Is it permissible to invite a person fictively? For example, it sometimes happens that a guest arrives just before mealtime, and the host knows without any doubt that even if he presses his guest to eat with him the guest will decline. He know that his guest has to be somewhere else, or that because he is by nature too reserved to accept such an invitation he will politely turn it down. The question is, what should the host do in such a situation?
Answer: If in the host's heart there is an earnest desire that the guest join him for the meal, even though it is obvious that the invitation will be tuned down, it is permissible to ask the guest once or twice to stay. This is because, if a person comes at mealtime and it is not clear where he will eat, it is only fitting to invite him, for if he does not invite him the guest may take offense. This is especially true if other people are present. They are liable to interpret this as discourtesy. Therefore, out of a sense of decency it is best to invite the guest to eat even if it is clear that he will turn down the invitation (Sma, Choshen Mishpat 228:8). If the host possesses great affection for the guest, and strongly desires that he eat with him, it is permissible for the host to even press his guest to stay, despite the fact that he knows that he will decline. This is not considered deception, for the host truly desires that his friend eat with him. To the contrary, it is only fitting that one give expression to one's affection (Shulchan Arukh HaRav, Hilkhot Ona'ah VeGenevat Da'at, 14).
But, if the host is really not interested in inviting the guest, yet at any rate presses him to stay and eat knowing that the guest will decline, the host is guilty of deception. This is because the objective of his affectionate invitation is to give the appearance of being one of the guest's closest friends who would like nothing more than to have him stay and eat with him, while, in truth, if the host truly believed that the guest would take him up on his offer, he would not bother inviting him at all. This being the case, the host's entire performance is no more than a grand deception, intended to make a positive impression upon the heart of the guest in order that in the future, the host might enjoy some form of repayment (Chullin 94a; Shulchan Arukh, Choshen Mishpat 228:6).

Borderline Cases
Now let us try to understand what must be done in unclear cases deception. The Talmud (Chullin 94b) relates a story from which we may induce a rule of thumb for our question at hand:
The sages Rabba and Rav Safra set out together on a journey. Once out of the city, they suddenly ran into one of the outstanding Torah scholars at that time, Mar Zutra the son of Rav Nachman, who was on his way to their city. Mar Zutra, thinking that they had come out in his honor in order to receive him as he arrived, said to Rabba and Rav Safra, "Why do sages of your stature have to trouble yourselves so, going to such lengths in my honor." Rav Safra responded, saying, "In truth, we did not know that you were about to arrive. We were simply setting out on our way when we coincidentally ran into you. If, though, we had been aware that you were coming, we would have honored you even more." After parting with Mar Zutra, Rabba asked Rav Safra, "Why did you go and disappoint Mar Zutra, telling him that we did not come out in his honor? Did you not see how pleased he was at the fact that we came to receive him respectfully? You merely embarrassed him by telling him that he was mistaken." Rav Safra said to Rabba, "Well, if I had not told the truth we would have been guilty of deceiving him, for he would have remained under the false impression that we had come out in his honor." Rabba responded, saying, "In fact, he deceived himself, for he was free to assume that we had only met him by chance. We did not do anything to deceive him and lead him to think that we had come out in his honor, and therefore even if we had played along we would not have transgressed the prohibition of deception."
The law follows the opinion of Rabba. From here we may draw the conclusion that the prohibition against deception applies when one person, through action or speech, causes his fellow to receive a positive yet false impression about him. But if one's fellow arrives at such a conclusion independently there is no obligation to correct him of his mistake. Rav Safra, incidentally, was well known for being stringent when it came to questions of honesty. Therefore, he preferred telling the truth even though he was not obligated to do so.

When Deception is Permitted
In ordinary circumstances, it is forbidden to deceive one's fellow by causing him to believe that he benefited him, or at least wished to benefit him, in some way when in fact he did not. It is important to realize, though, that there are cases in which it is permissible to deceive another person. It is allowable to "deceive" when the intention is to bestow honor upon one's fellow.
When there is some special occasion at a neighbor's house - be it a happy occasion or, Heaven forbid, bereavement over a close relative - it is customary for friends and neighbors to bring them food and beverage and to help them serve the food and organize the house. There are those, though, who prefer to deceive others and, because they are not particularly interested in helping, wait until everything is ready and organized and then arrive and offer their help. What's more, upon being informed that everything has already been arranged, they express great disappointment and regret over the fact that they have been denied the privilege of helping their dear friends. There are those who wait until it is clear that there is already enough food and refreshment and only then arrive to offer to bring cake or some other food. Yet, when told that others already brought enough items, they present themselves as being disappointed. They believe that by behaving in this way they gain two things: On the one hand, they needed neither to exert themselves nor contribute a thing; on the other hand, they succeed in leaving an impression that they had wanted to help. In truth, though, they have violated the severe prohibition of "genevat da'at," i.e. deception.
Yet, if an important person, upon arriving at the house of his neighbor during a family celebration or mourning, notices that there are other people present and understands that if he offers his help, despite the fact that there is no need, his neighbors will feel honored, it is permissible for him to do so. It does not matter that they will demure, or that there is no longer any need. In addition, it is permissible to bring them food even though he knows that they already have enough and he will just end up returning home again with the food, for the mere fact that this important person arrives with a pot of food in his hands will bring a sense of honor to the neighbors. The rationale behind this allowance is that in such cases the attention and honor are much more important than the actual food or assistance. Therefore, this is not considered deception, for the mere expression of a desire to help is what is important, and it is this that brings true pleasure to the neighbors. Such behavior, then, is not seen as an act of deception (Chullin94a; Shulchan Arukh, Choshen Mishpat 228:7; Shulchan Arukh HaRav Hilkhot Ona'ah 14).

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