A White Lie?

By Rabbi Chaim Chazzan


Is it permissible for someone shipping fragile merchandise, for example matzos, to write on the box “glass,” thereby increasing the likelihood that the box will be handled with care?


It is forbidden to lie even when no harm will befall anyone as a result[1]. Writing dishonestly is also included in the prohibition[2]. [Chazal permitted changing details or even outright lying in some specific cases, such as in order to avoid conflict between people. These halochos are complex and several entire seforim[3] have written discussing the specifics].

It is forbidden to say a white lie, such as answering in an ambiguous manner that can interpreted in two ways, even if what he actually says is not false, but it leaves his friend with the wrong impression[4]. Included in this prohibition is omitting details that misleads the listener, although he has not said anything actually incorrect[5]. However, omitting details is permitted if the general intent and purpose of what is being said is not changed by the omission[6].

In our case he is not explicitly writing that the content of the box is glass, rather merely the word “glass”. Although doing so misleads the reader, the omission of the detail that the word does not reflect the content of the box, does not change the purpose of what was written. The point the person wants to convey by writing “glass” on the box is that it should be handled with care. This point comes across by writing the word “glass”, despite the omission[7].

If the box contains matzos, there is another reason to allow writing “glass” on the box. One may be dishonest in a case when no harm will be caused to another in order to fulfill a mitzvah or in order not to transgress an aveira[8]. (There are many details to this din, hence one shouldn’t see this as a blanket heter). In the case of transporting a box of matzo, the reason he wants the matzos to remain whole is to fulfill the mitzvah of lechem mishnah[9].

Obviously if the is no benefit from writing “glass” on the box and writing “fragile” will accomplish the same goal, one shouldn’t be dishonest.

Reprinted with permission from  Lmaan Yishmeu – a project of Mercaz Anash. To see more articles visit Mercazanash.com

[1] אמנם דעת היראים (סי’ רלה) דלא אסרה תורה אלא שקר שיכול לבוא לידי היזק לחבירו, שאר רבוותא לא חלקו כן, ומפורש לאיסור בספר חרדים (מ”ע מה”ת התלויות בפה פ”ד אות כו), ואף לדעת היראים נקטו רבים דעכ”פ איסורא איכא

[2] תוס’ ב”ב צד ע”ב ד”ה הכי

[3] ניב שפתיים (להר”ר נחום יברוב), תתן אמת ליעקב (להר”ר יעקב יחזקיה פיש) ועוד

[4] חת”ס לכתובות יז ע”א מהד”ת

[5] כן דייק מהרמב”ם (פי”ד הי”ג מהל’ גזילה ואבידה) בספר ניב שפתיים הנ”ל כלל א ה”ה

[6] ניב שפתיים שם בחידושים

[7] תתן אמת ליעקב הנ”ל חלק התשובות סי’ יג בשם הגרי”ש אליישוב והגרי”י פישר ועוד

[8] ר”י בשע”ת מאמר קפא, דרישה חו”מ ס”ס רסב, ט”ז או”ח סי’ תקס”ה סק”ו.

[9] כן הביא בספר תתן אמת ליעקב מספר ניב שפתיים עמ’ יט ולא מצאתיו בעמ’ זה (עכ”פ במהדו’ שתח”י).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *