And the sons of Yaakov answered Shechem and [his father] Chamor with mirma. After all, they were speaking to those who had defiled their sister Dinah. (Bereshith 34:13)
Through their cunning, Yaakov’s sons Shimon and Levi killed the entire male population of the city of Shechem. According to halachah all those who were killed deserved the death penalty, since they were bound by the seven laws of Noach to organize a system for administering justice, through which Shechem should have been punished for molesting Dina. Nonetheless, Yaakov strongly opposed Shimon and Levi’s actions, for they had tricked the people of the city after the people had trusted them.1
Deceiving another person is prohibited whether that person is a Jew or a non-Jew.2 If, for example, a Jew owns a kosher butcher shop, he may not sell non-kosher meat to a non-Jew if the non-Jew believes he is buying kosher meat. If the non-Jew paid a higher price for what he thought was kosher meat and the meat was not kosher, the sale is not valid, for the non-Jew was cheated. Even if he did not pay any more for the meat than he would have paid for non-kosher meat, if he thought he was receiving something of higher quality, the owner is guilty of deceiving him. It is forbidden for the owner of the shop to give a non- Jew a wrong impression, which may lead the non-Jew to continue to shop there since he mistakenly believes he is getting more for his money.
The prohibition of cheating someone applies anytime a Jew tries to take something – even something intangible, such as gratitude – from someone else, through trickery.3 According to many opinions, it is forbidden to give something that seems to be kosher meat to a non-Jew as a gift if the non-Jew will think the meat is kosher, for that is also considered deceit.4
In every case, if a customer was given the impression that he was buying something of higher quality than what he actually received, the sale is invalid, and the customer is entitled to a refund. This applies whether the customer is Jew or non-Jew, for it is prohibited to deceive anyone, regardless of race or religion. It is incumbent upon the spiritual leaders of each community to make sure that the residents of their communities act with complete truth and honesty to Jews and non-Jews alike. Anyone who violates this by buying on credit or taking loans without paying back should receive appropriate punishment for their actions.5
1 Ramban on Bereshith 34:13.
2 Ritva and other commentators on Chulin 94a; Chut HaMeshulash, Responsa 15.
3 Rema, Yoreh De’ah 117:2.
4 Tosfoth Rabbeinu Tam, Chulin 94b; Tur; Yam Shel Shlomo 7:19.
5 Be’er HaGolah, Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 388.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org