In the Aruch HaShulchan OH 581:4, he writes regarding the selichos we recite before Rosh HaShanah:

האחת: דאלו שאינם מתענים, ובהסליחה מוזכר לשון "תענית" או "צום" – לא יאמרו זה, דלא ליהוי כדובר שקרים. ויאמרו לשון תפלה במקום תענית

That if the selicha mentions fasting and the person reciting it is not fasting, then he should not mention the fast, but should change the word to "prayer" instead of "fast", in order that he should not be speaking falsely.

1) Is this rule against speaking falsely in prayer a general rule? Source?

2) If so, does it refer only to factual matters (like whether one is fasting, or in the case of nachem, whether Jerusalem is in point of fact in ruin), or does it refer also to theological matters? Meaning if one doesn't believe the text of a particular prayer, should he alter it accordingly?

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    Are you asking how we know you shouldn't lie when speaking to God??
    – Double AA
    Mar 14, 2012 at 2:29
  • Partly. If the text is well-established and one is merely reciting it, does he need to believe the text to be true? Is it really considered lying to God if one simply repeats a text that has an inaccuracy in it? And if it is considered lying, and one does indeed need to change factual errors in his text, must he also adjust his text to fix theological "errors"?
    – Curiouser
    Mar 14, 2012 at 2:34
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    I suppose that if you think it's ok to pray to the wrong god as long as everyone else is doing it, then there shouldn't be an issue. In fact, we have plenty of precedent in Tanach for all of Bnei Yisrael praying together to the wrong god...
    – Double AA
    Mar 14, 2012 at 2:37
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    @doubleas IMHO that last comment is a little inappropriate.
    – Seth J
    Mar 14, 2012 at 3:18
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    @SethJ I am certainly not ChV"Sh accusing Curiouser of worshiping Avoda Zara. I'm simply not sure why s/he would entertain the idea of not only lying to God, but lying about God to God! It seems to me to be extremely obvious that one cannot do so. Of course one should analyze carefully to see if a certain passage really does create theological problems and be certain the problems aren't in one's own mind before changing the text. But that is a technical point.
    – Double AA
    Mar 14, 2012 at 4:26

3 Answers 3


The earliest reference I can find to an aversion to lying in prayer is a rashi on Shabbat 24a sv Arvit which quotes the Geonim saying that one should not say Aneinu on a fast day at ma'ariv and shacharit (which is the simple reading of the gemaras and the majority opinion in rishonim) lest one become weak later into the fast and need to eat, thereby retroactively having lied in his prayer. This opinion is brought down as a "Yesh Omrim" (an alternate approach) in the Tur. Most dissenting opinions who address the issue argue about whether or not having said Aneinu and later breaking the fast is considered lying, not if lying is ok.

As for theologically troubling passages, if one thinks what the passage says is false then I see no reason to distinguish that from any other falsehood. A popular occurrence of this latter issue pertains to part of the pizmon of selichot for the 5th day of asseret yemei teshuva which is discussed in this question. Independent of what one thinks about the theological implications of that passage, one can note the opinions who were comfortable changing the text as they deemed necessary (see particularly Alex's comment on the question there and the sources cited within). Those that argue there do so on the theological plane, not the from the nussach perspective.

  • It seems that another related question is when one says Musaf in place of Shachris (or vice versa) in the Shabbos davening; the Magen Avraham (OH 268 #9) also brings up the issue of lying in davening, but it seems that there are those on both sides of the issue.
    – Curiouser
    Mar 14, 2012 at 6:32

It is a verse in Psalms (101:7)

Speaker of falsehoods shall not appear before my eyes.
דבר שקרים לא יכון לנגד עיני

The Talmud in a few places (see Shabbos 149b, Chagiga 14b) explains that God will not allow any speaker of falsehood to remain in His presence. It follows that one should steer clear from any smattering of falsehood in prayer.

See Baba Bathra (82a) regarding the prayer one recites when bringing Bikkurim, that even if it outwardly appears false, it should not be said. Rashbam cites the above verse as a source for that concern.

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    But importantly the Rashbam notes that when one reads from the Torah (as opposed to reciting during Bikkurim) there is no concern. אבל כשקורא בתורה לא מיחזי כשיקרא. Does that apply also to reading from a siddur, such that there is similarly no concern?
    – Curiouser
    Mar 16, 2012 at 2:15
  • Rashbam means if one's intent is not to supplicate but merely to "read the Torah" then there's no falsehood. If one intends to daven words that are false, it makes no difference if it was recited from a Torah (or a siddur, for that matter).
    – Barry
    Mar 19, 2012 at 19:48

I wish I had sources, but my understanding is that the Jewish people are divided on this issue.

There are many people who say that you can't lie to Hashem at all. I've heard this argument used to try to convince people to make Aliyah. (i.e., you pray for Gd to return the Jewish people to Israel, but you don't even seriously look into the opportunities provided for you to do so.) They base this on phrases such as "the seal of Hashem is Emet", and just a general idea that Gd can not be bribed or lied to, so what do you think you are doing?

There are also people who are so afraid of Reform Judaism et al, that they will not tolerate any deviation from the latest understanding of "mesorah", and will require people to say words that they know to be false, based on the principle in pirkei avot, that eventually you will change your mind.

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