Is This Deception?

Question

Shmelke sells electrical appliances. He recently received a consignment of washing
machines with an unknown brand name, but manufactured in the same factory as a top-quality
brand. Can he tell his customers that they are getting a top-quality brand at a bargain
price, when the real reason for the cheap price is the unknown label?


Answer

In Tractate Chullin (94a) we are told that it is forbidden to deceive anyone, even a
non-Jew. This is termed "g’neivas da’as" (lit. stealing the mind). We
learn this from an incident where a non-Jewish ferry-operator complained that a Jew had
provided him with a chicken which was not kosher, claiming that it was fit for Jewish
consumption. Even though the non-Jew could still eat it, Shmuel asserted that the Jew was
guilty of deception. There are Authorities who are of the opinion that such action
infringes a Torah prohibition, being considered a form of stealing. Others hold that the
prohibition is only rabbinic. Even though the victim has not incurred any monetary loss
and has received value for money, he has been deceived. This is forbidden, even if the
victim will never discover the deception. (Stealing money is also forbidden, even if the
victim will never discover the loss!) Obviously, when selling an item, one is obligated to
reveal any blemish of which one is aware (and which is not immediately apparent). The same
principle applies to selling real estate which is encumbered with legal problems. One is
obligated to reveal that such problems exist.

It therefore follows that this prohibition is not confined to monetary matters. To beg
a person to come for a meal when you know he never eats outside his home is also a form of
deception. You know that he is not going to accept your invitation. You are therefore
giving him a false impression that you really want his company. May one then send an
invitation to a person whom one knows will now attend the function? The answer is that if
sending an invitation is just taken as a sign of friendship or that failing to do so will
cause offense, it is permitted. To follow it up with a dozen phone calls, however, is
forbidden!

You are expecting a guest and you meet him in the street. He thinks that you came out
to meet him. You did not say anything to give or confirm this impression. Are you
obligated to disillusion him? It would seem that since you have not positively deceived
this person, you have done nothing wrong. The other person has deceived himself! The
Talmud Yerushalmi states (Makkos 2:6) that if people honour you because they assume you
posses more knowledge than you actually do, you are obligated to disillusion them. You
have not actively given a false impression. Why is there then such an obligation? The
answer is that by gaining honour (or money) one is deriving benefit from the false
impression. To do so is forbidden.

THEREFORE, Shmelke may not tell the customers that they are getting a
top-quality brand, since this is not true. He may say that they are getting good value for
money, which is true!