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Is it permitted to bend the truth in order to prevent someone from feeling bad? For example, you speak at length to your friend who is a handyman about the possibility of him painting your house, and then find out that he's not as good as the competition, but he'll feel terrible if you just decide not to use him without giving any explanation. Are you allowed to make something up, e.g., the other painter owed you a favor and gave you a deal you couldn't refuse?

(Sources, please.)

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Very appropriate for our Parsha: וַיְצַוּוּ, אֶל-יוֹסֵף לֵאמֹר: אָבִיךָ צִוָּה, לִפְנֵי מוֹתוֹ לֵאמֹר. כֹּה-תֹאמְרוּ לְיוֹסֵף, אָנָּא שָׂא נָא פֶּשַׁע אַחֶיךָ וְחַטָּאתָם כִּי-רָעָה גְמָלוּךָ, וְעַתָּה שָׂא נָא, לְפֶשַׁע עַבְדֵי אֱלֹהֵי אָבִיךָ; וַיֵּבְךְּ יוֹסֵף, בְּדַבְּרָם אֵלָיו –  YDK Dec 14 '10 at 1:27
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5 Answers 5

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There is a principal that "You are allowed to change for the sake of peace."

The source for this comes when the messengers tell Avraham that he is going to have a child in a year. Sarah laughs, saying, " God changes Sarah's statement from "After I have become worn out, will I have smooth flesh? And also, my master is old." (Gen. 18:13) to And the Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Is it really true that I will give birth, although I am old?' (Gen. 18:14).

Rashi comments on this change: although I am old: Scripture altered [her statement] for the sake of peace, for she had said,“and my master is old.” - [from B.M. 87a].

Another source states how Aharon would privately approach each person in a fight and tell them that the other person wanted the fight to end. Using these white lies, Aharon made peace, Avoth dRebbi Nosson (ch. 12).

There are limits to how far this concept can be applied. If one is testifying in court, of course, then you need to tell the truth. I do think that you would be allowed to "change the truth for the sake of peace" to avoid a grudge.

There are two other issues that you should consider:

  1. The truth may (will?) come out. If you are in a situation where you did not want to use a specific business, and instead you went with a different provider, there is a good chance that someone will find out that you went with the different provider and tell person A. It may be best to go to the person directly with your concerns.

  2. I saw that you asked for sources. These questions are great to consider in the abstract, and to compile all sorts of different opinions. But when an actual situation comes up, having the chance to talk to a real person who knows you and can help you apply the sources is invaluable. Very often the sources seem to contradict each other, and a balancing act is needed to weigh what is correct in light of Halacha and pleasing in the eyes of humanity.

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Thanks! I tried to give an example where there wouldn't be a grudge per se, just that the other person would feel bad. Do you think this too would be covered under the rubric of "changing for the sake of peace"? –  Dave Dec 13 '10 at 19:43
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It's a machlokes whether Hashem inserted a phrase that was not there. Some hold that Sarah had her period- she stopped having "orach kanashim" who stop menstruating when old (that's why she didn't serve the lechem) and actually said "After I have withered, I have 'edna'" So she did in fact call herself old. Hashem just didn't tell Avraham everything. –  YDK Dec 14 '10 at 1:24
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  • Our Rabbis taught: How does one dance [and what words does one say] before a bride? The School of Shammai says, “The bride [is described] as she is.” The School of Hillel says, “[Every bride is described as a] beautiful and graceful bride.” The School of Shammai said to the School of Hillel, “If she was lame or blind, does one say of her, ‘Beautiful and graceful bride’? Does not the Torah command, ‘Stay far away from falsehood’? (Exodus 23:7). But the School of Hillel answered the School of Shammai, “According to your words, if a person has made a bad purchase in the market, should one praise it to him or deprecate it? Surely one should praise it to him.” Therefore, the Rabbis teach, “Always should one’s disposition be pleasant with people.” – Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 16b-17a

  • When a man is about to die, we tell him to recite the viduii (confession of sins). We say to him, “Many have said the confession and then not died, and many have not said the confession and died.” – Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 338:1

Quotes/translations from Joseph Telushkin’s Jewish Wisdom

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mTp, Welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks very much for the relevant and well-presented sources! I look forward to seeing you around. –  Isaac Moses Dec 13 '10 at 20:53
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mTp- I recall (maybe from Tosfos there?) that even Bais Shammai with Bais Hillel, but held that because of the Pasuk, the Sages were restricted from instituting this as an halacha. –  YDK Dec 14 '10 at 1:32
    
In the spirit of Hillel and the bride I was taught that certain white lies are always permitted: "Grandma, I love the sweater you gave me". –  Monica Cellio Jan 23 '12 at 20:22
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See also Avoth dRebbi Nosson (ch. 12) describing how Aaron engaged in getting enemies to reconcile, and would employ white lies to get the process rolling.

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I would think this case is similar to Ushpiza (Bava Metzia 23b-24a). I'm sure the host who went all out for his guest would probably be upset about the way the guest unflatteringly described the hospitality. But the truth would have caused a bigger issue of darkei shalom.

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Answer Here:From Naleh

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