By Rabbi Chaim Chazzan
What are the prohibitions involved when cheating on a test? Is there any difference between a test on limudei kodesh material and lehavdil a test on secular studies?
To preface: The Torah requires a Yid to be moral and honest in all matters. Often, even if one cannot point to a specific se’if in Shulchan Aruch that forbids something, it is nevertheless obvious that the Torah forbids behaving in such a manner. So too here, it is self understood that cheating on a test is an act of deception which flies in the face of Torah’s value of honesty.
However, the truth is that even from a dry legal perspective, cheating on a test involves several Halachic issues. Some instances of cheating have direct financial consequences and thus would be considered gneiva. For example, if one was hired based on test scores that were achieved by cheating, the salary received based on false pretexts constitutes theft.
Even when there are no monetary implications, the very act of deceit that causes another person, including a goy, to have a mistaken assumption or impression, is referred to in Halacha as gneivas daas. Chazal list seven types of thieves, the worst of which is someone who steals “the opinion” of others, i.e. leads them to false conclusions. Therefore, leading a teacher to believe the answers on the test are his own, when in reality they were copied from someone else, violates the prohibition against gneivas daas. It should be noted that many rishonim hold that gneivas daas (deceit) is an biblical prohibition.
In summary: there is no difference between limudei kodesh or lehavdil secular studies with regard to the prohibition of gneivas daas.
חולין דף צד ע”א, ריטב”א שם, ספר יראים רכ”ד, שערי תשובה לרבינו יונה ג, קפ”ד, תוספתא בבא קמא ז,ג, שו”ע חו”מ סי’ רכח סעי’ ו, שו”ת אגרות משה חו”מ ח”ב סי’ ל, שו”ת משנה הלכות ח”ז סי’ ער”ה.
Reprinted with permission from Lmaan Yishmeu – a project of Mercaz Anash. To see more articles visit Mercazanash.com