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Aspects of Truth and Deception in Jewish Law and Tradition

Stephen M. Passamaneck
Hebrew Union College Annual
Vol. 81 (2010), pp. 81-103
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23509953
Page Count: 23
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Aspects of Truth and Deception in Jewish Law and Tradition
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Abstract

While truth is a revered virtue in Jewish tradition, and deceit is frowned upon and reviled, the sad fact is that both jostle each other in the ordinary round of human activity and even in the interpretation and understanding of classic Jewish law. People are not supposed to deceive, and yet what if that deception serves a worthwhile purpose? What if it is just a lie to foil a thief? Informing, which I shall contend is tantamount to treason, was viewed with horror in Jewish law. The informer might be killed. Yet the information might well be accurate even though the informer may be styled "a lying slanderer" — lashon hara' may in fact be a true statement! An individual who informs becomes a marked man, yet a community may employ the same tactic to protect itself. Even the interpretation of mishnaic law may depend upon a proposition which is itself a deception. Both truth and deception for better or for worse are part of the fabric of life. When we view them as abstract concepts, they are clearly at odds, but in the twists and turns of life they are not very far apart.

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