Note: This question is in fact hypothetical--but any suggestions for edits that could make it a less ostensibly CYLOR-type question would be welcome.

Let's say I attend a university which requires all incoming students to sign an honor code which states that they will report any incidents of cheating/unethical behavior that they observe other students committing.

1) Would reporting these incidents be a violation of halacha* if I told on a Jewish student?

2) If yes to #1: May I sign this honor code, with the knowledge that following through with the code could in some cases be a violation of halacha?

3) If I do sign, and then I do, ch"v, observe a Jewish student cheating, what must I do? Would there be any possible halachic leniencies to report the cheating?

4) Would any of the above change in consideration of the fact that I myself may be punished (i.e., expelled) for not reporting the cheating?

*The potential issues I have in mind are loshon hara and mesira. In light of the latter possibility, it might be appropriate to consider two (three?) separate cases here: one in which one is reporting to academic authorities who are Jews in a Jewish academic institution (such as YU or possibly an actual kollel/yeshiva); one in which one is reporting to academic authorities who are goyim in a secular institution; and (maybe) one in which one is reporting to Jewish authorities, or a mix of Jewish authorities and goyim, in a secular institution.

  • 1
    I have decided not to break this question up into three parts, even though they may address different parts of halachic theory, because I believe the example itself has its own measure of theoretical integrity and may be useful/interesting when considered as a whole.
    – SAH
    Mar 23, 2015 at 1:28
  • I suspect lashon hara should not be the real issue since in this case the tattling serves an ostensibly beneficial purpose. More serious could be the question of mesira, though this too might not be a problem if the punishment fits the crime (if memory serves).
    – Loewian
    Mar 23, 2015 at 3:52
  • @loewian the halachos of loshon hara are complex and very strict; you're not allowed to say it for just any "ostensibly beneficial purpose." A lot of tests have to be passed and a lot of prior measures have to be taken.
    – SAH
    Mar 23, 2015 at 4:55
  • @loewian but edited in mesira, since that's definitely another significant issue; thanks.
    – SAH
    Mar 23, 2015 at 4:56
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    I'm not an expert in the details of mesira, but I suspect that it might not apply to university officials since they don't have the power to execute/imprison etc.
    – Daniel
    Mar 23, 2015 at 13:04

1 Answer 1


There's a good YUTorah mp3 about this. Rabbi Hershel Shachter mentions that years ago, there was concern of widespread cheating going on at Yeshiva College. Its president, Rabbi Dr. Shmuel Belkin, told the student body -- "I studied with the Chafetz Chaim himself, and I know the laws of Lashon Hara! And the halacha is, you need to come forward."

Rabbi Belkin quoted a Gemara in which the Jewish court issues a summons for Joe Shmoe to appear. The Gemara discusses the process if Joe refuses the summons. Waitaminute, said Rabbi Belkin! So the rabbis sent Shmerel the Messenger with the summons. Joe took the summons, tore it in two, and spat in Shmerel's face. Then ... Shmerel -- aha! Shmerel reported what happened back to the rabbis! He didn't gag himself because of "lashon hara." "In this case", said Rabbi Belkin, "I am the the rabbinic court, and you are the messenger. I need to know what's going on here."

If we went through the theory behind it, we could discuss questions of when I am obligated vs. allowed vs. prohibited from coming forth, and how the risk to myself plays into this; similarly the Chafetz Chaim and others discuss the criterion of whether the punishment to the wrongdoer will be disproportionate, e.g. if this school applies the death penalty for plagiarism.

But the rule of thumb here is that academic integrity is a good thing, and so is supporting it.

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    It seems from this answer that the L"H is permitted in R' Belkin's case because it was essentially ordered by rabbinic authorities - him. It's not obvious, at least as presented so far, that the same would be true if the L"H is ordered by secular authorities. Links to and direct quotations from the cited source material would be helpful.
    – Isaac Moses
    Mar 23, 2015 at 13:59
  • I agree with @IsaacMoses; secular university != rabbinical court. Also, an academic violation (possibly) does not equal a violation of Jewish law, so I can imagine the halachos might be different. Interesting info though
    – SAH
    Mar 23, 2015 at 22:41
  • ...That said, I would wonder if academic violations fall under the prohibition against g'nivas daas.
    – SAH
    Oct 9, 2016 at 18:23
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    Can you provide a link to the mp3 page?
    – user9643
    Jun 4, 2017 at 18:59

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