The Passing Game: G’neivat Da’at and the Ethics of Self Presentation


Tuesday, April 30, 7:30-9:30  |  What does Judaism have to say about truth or deception? In this class, we will look at conversations in classic Jewish texts regarding the idea of G’nievat Da’at, “theft of the mind.” What does it mean to “steal the mind” of someone? What are our obligations to truth/deception?

As LGBT Jews, how does authentic self-presentation push the boundaries of G’neivat Da’at and the Jewish concept of deception? Is passing/being passed (as another gender, race, class, or sexuality) a form of G’neivat Da’at? Do we have an obligation to be out? What is at stake by asking these questions?

The class will be led by BCC member and Kevah Teaching Fellow Kadin Henningsen. No RSVP necessary. For more info contact

LiarWork_crop380wThe following are some situations that may involve geneivat da’at, taking from an essay by Hershey H. Friedman, PhD, professor of business and marketing at Brooklyn College. The purpose of this paper is not to arrive at definitive halachic (Jewish law) conclusions but to make the public aware of the issues involving geneivat da’at. Those who desire to know the final halacha should consult with a halachic authority.

Deceptive Offers: Urging someone to come to a meal knowing that s/he will not come; offering a person a gift knowing that he will not accept it; and opening a barrel of wine that one had to open anyway and make guests believe that it was opened strictly for them. These cases are directly from the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Chullin 94a). Modern versions of the above might include offering a person a lift home from a party knowing that she arrived with her own car and does not need a lift. Sending a wedding or bar mitzvah invitation to an individual that you know will not or cannot come should not be a problem if you are doing it to show respect to the invitee. Also, inviting someone to a party or wedding in order that his or her feelings are not hurt would be permissible. As noted above, the problem is with “urging” (i.e., making repeated requests) someone to come. Sending an invitation is also considered proper etiquette even if the inviter knows the invitee cannot make it. If, however, the invitation is sent for one’s own benefit, e.g., to receive a gift, and the reality is that one does not want the person to come, there may be a problem of geneivat da’at. Making a gift appear much more valuable than it really is would also be prohibited by Jewish law (Basri 1982, p. 245).

Irregular Merchandise: Sellers are obligated to disclose any defects, deficiencies, shortcomings, or imperfections in their merchandise; otherwise, they are guilty of geneivat da’at. This is true even if the product is being sold at a fair price so that there is no problem of mekach taos. Tamari (1991, pp. 73-76) stresses that Jewish law rejects the concept of “Let the buyer beware;” the burden of ensuring that the buyer is not deceived is on the seller.

Deceptive Quality/Advertising Puffery: Misleading one’s customers into thinking that the quality of the item they purchased is much better than it really is would be geneivat da’at. This case is similar to the Talmudic case (Babylonian Talmud, Chullin 94a) involving selling shoes made from the hide of a dead animal and misrepresenting them as coming from the hide of a slaughtered animal. Deceptive advertising would be one way of dishonestly raising customers’ expectations regarding the quality of products. Selling products with misleading nutritional information, e.g., selling nutrition supplements as weight-loss, wrinkle-elimination, or memory-improvement aids when there is no evidence that they have any such beneficial effect, would also fall under the prohibition of geneivat da’at.

Deceptive Bargains: Deceiving one’s customers and making them believe that they have received a bargain when they have not would also be geneivat da’at. Thus, phony markdowns, i.e., marking an item with a spurious high price solely for the purpose of slashing it and thus make customers think they are getting a bargain is prohibited. In addition, falsely claiming “last day of sale” would also be forbidden [Tamari (1996), p. 74].

More examples and explanations about geneivat da’at can be found in this link.

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