Thursday, March 18, 2010

prohibition on lying

Uncle Moshe has made me mad enough to break the silence and return to
the keyboard. I was preparing for my Pirkei Avos shiur yesterday when I
stumbled on a falsehood that has been perpetuated by Uncle Moshe for
many, many years. We are up to the 9th misha of the first perek, Shimon
ben shetach explains to judges how they should interrogate the witnesses
to determine if they are lying or not.

There are very few commentaries on this mishna, so I brought sources
from Sanhedrin about the process and the story of the 80 witches that he
killed. I got into the Ten Commandments etc.

Then I decided to veer on the subject to the issue of lying in general
and, remembering the Uncle Moshe song, I turned to the verse that says
מדבר שקר תרחק. As the song goes, "מדבר שקר תרחק never tell a lie, Hashem
knows just what happened there's no reason to deny, honesty is אמת make
sure all your words are true so tatti, mommy and Hashem will be so proud
of you." This indicates that the torah source for lying comes from that
pasuk. However, that pasuk is not talking about lying at all. It is an
admonition to judges to be straight in their judgements. The pasuk
before states "don't bias your judgement towards poor people and the one
after says don't take bribery.

It seems that Uncle Moshe is trying to teach children not to lie with a
lie. We can judge him favorably and assume he is ignorant and actually
thinks that that is the source of the prohibition. Until last night I
was also ignorant and assumed that was the source of the prohibition,
but that is only because of his song. The actual prohibition comes from
a pasuk in Lev 19:11, which states "don't steal, deny or lie, a man
among his people."

The talmud brings down a number of cases where it is permitted to lie,
including a famous argument between beis hillel and beis shammai about
whether you should say that a bride is beautiful even if she is not. We
follow the opinion of Beis Hillel which says that after someone buys
something you should compliment it instead of telling him what you
really think. There is no purpose in telling someone after they buy it
that it was an unwise purchase, unless there is actual benefit to the
buyer (and informing him that he has bad taste is not really considered
beneficial.) Since there is a very strict return policy on wives, it is
appropriate to tell the groom that his bride is beautiful even if you
don't really think so.

Here in the Galilee we are getting ready for Pesach. the question of the
year is whether we eat canola oil or not. The rabbi said there is no
clear ruling and I can either eat it or not eat it, my choice. So I'm
taking a poll with all the people who will be eating with us, as to
whether they have a problem with it and if everyone is good with it, we
will start using it this year.

The big pesach tiyul has not been determined yet.