The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
Is it ever permitted to lie?
Yaakov Avinu was the Amud Ha'emes, the pillar of truth. Indeed,
according to the Talmud (1), the greatest fear that Yaakov Avinu
had was that he might encounter life situations where we would be
forced to lie. When Rivka commanded Yaakov to falsely present
himself to his blind father as Eisav, he protested, for our
Sages (2) compare lying to idol worship. It was only when Rivka
told him that it was the will of Heaven that he should be the one to
receive the blessings from his father Yitzchak, that Yaakov
relented and allowed his mother to disguise him to appear as
What is the definition of lying? R' Yona (3) lists nine different categories of lies. In order of severity, they are:
a. People who cheat in business, causing others financial loss;
b. People who exploit others after gaining their trust through deception;
c. People whose lies cause others to lose out on some gain or benefit that was coming to them;
d. People who fabricate stories merely for the sake of lying;
e. People who hold out the promise of giving another person material goods while never intending to follow up on their promise;
f. People who intend to keep a promise but do not honor their commitment;
g. People who act as though they did a favor or a good deed for another;
h. People who praise themselves for virtues that they do not possess;
i. People who change minor details when retelling an episode.
A careful analysis of these nine categories shows that all of
the lies are told either for the purpose of cheating another
person, or for no apparent reason. R' Yona, however, does not
list those who lie for a "good" purpose or for a "good" reason.
Thus, we may ask, is it ever permitted to lie?
Throughout Talmudic literature, we find stories about our Sages
veering from the truth for "good" reasons (4). Obviously,
however, only the Poskim can draw practical conclusions from
such cases, since these very episodes can be understood on
various levels. Moreover, not everything quoted in the Talmud is
applied in practical Halacha, as we often rule differently from
an opinion stated in the Gemara. The following, however, are
some real-life situations with which the Poskim deal:
If one is asked information about a matter that is supposed to
remain secret, he may answer, "I don't know" (5). Similarly,
although one is not allowed to lie in order to avoid telling bad
news (6), it is permitted to say, "I don't know" (7).
During an appeal for funds, one is not allowed to announce a
donation in an amount greater then he is planning to give, even
if the aim is to spur others to commit themselves to larger
A wealthy man is permitted to lie about his wealth if he fears
"the evil eye" (Ayin H'ara) or if he does not want to arouse
It is forbidden for an adopted son to be called to the Torah as
the son of his adoptive father. Although this may not be
considered a lie (10), it is forbidden because it may lead to
confusion when matters of inheritance and Chalitza, etc.,
When collecting funds for a poor Talmid Chacham, one may say
that he is collecting for Hachnasas Kallah if he thinks that
people will be more receptive to that cause (12). It is also
permitted to raise funds for Hachnasas Kallah, even when the
collection is primarily for the benefit of the Chasan (13).
It is prohibited to lie for the sake of financial gain, even
when no stealing is involved (14).
If one fears that a package will be mishandled, it is permitted
to write "glass" on it, even though it does not contain any
If one sees that his wife will be late for Shabbos, he is
permitted to tell her that the hour is later than it really is.
This is permitted only when it is clear that she is
procrastinating. If, however, she is rushing and harried and
telling her that the hour is later than it really is will only
pressure her further, it is forbidden to do so (16).
If, by refusing to receive a visitor, the visitor's feelings
will be hurt, one is permitted to leave instructions saying that
he is not home (17). One should not, however, instruct a minor to
lie about his parents' whereabouts, since that teaches the child
1 Makos 24a.
2 Sanhedrin 92a.
3 Shaarei Teshuva 3:178-186.
4 See, for example, Berachos (43b), an episode with R' Papa;
Pesachim (112a), attributing a statement to a made-up source so
that it will be readily accepted; Sukkah (34b) quoting Shmuel's
threat to the Haddasim merchants; Yevamos (65b) in regard to
lying for the sake of peace; Bava Metzia (23b), concerning
departing from the the truth for the sake of humility, modesy or
discretion.; Bava Metzia (30a), an episode with R' Yishmael.
There are many other such examples.
5 Harav S.Z Auerbach and Harav S.Y. Elyashiv quoted in Titen
Emes L'yaakov pg. 76.
6 YD 402:12.
7 Harav S.Z Auerbach, Harav S.Y. Elyashiv and Harav Y.Y. Fisher
quoted in Titen Emes L'yaakov pg. 89. See also Metzudos Dovid
Shmuel 2 18:29.
8 Minchas Yitzchok 3:97, based on Ma'harsha Sukkah 29a.
12 Shu"t Mishne Sachir (end of vol. 1) quoting a story with the
Chasam Sofer. Part of the ruling is based on the Midrash Rabba
(Ki-Sisa) that compares a Talmid Chacham to a Kallah. In that
story the Chasam Sofer allowed a Tzedaka fund intended for
Hachnosas Kallah to support a well-known Talmid Chacham.
14 R' Yona (Shaarei Teshuva 180 & 186); Rashas"h (Shabbos 140b)
and Sdei Chemed (vol. 4 pg. 87) opposing the Ma'harsha (Shabbos
140) who implies that it is permissible; Chofetz Chaim (Sfas
15 Harav S.Y. Elyashiv, Harav Y.Y. Fisher and Harav Chaim
Kanievsky, quoted in Titen Emes L'yaakov pg. 66.
16 Harav S. Y. Elyashiv quoted in Titen Emes L'yaakov pg. 86.
17 Harav S.Z Auerbach and Harav S.Y. Elyashiv quoted in Titen
Emes L'yaakov pg. 76. See also Machtzis Ha'shekel OC 156 that if
one has no time to answer a question about a particular subject,
he may say that he is not learning that subject now and cannot
answer the question.