May 30, 2024
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May 30, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Most people know that the universal custom among Klal Yisroel is to stay away from bakery products that are not pas Yisroel during this time. But there is something else that we should stay far away from—and that is all year round. Let’s qualify that. There is a presentation of a product that we must stay far away from—all year round.

 

The Product

Its origin is in Kilmarnock Ayrshire, Scotland, but is the most widely distributed brand of blended Scotch whiskey in the history of mankind. Indeed, it is sold in almost every country in the world, with sales approaching some 150 million bottles each year.

It is known as Johnnie Walker Scotch whiskey, and it comes in many versions. Red Label is 80 proof and is a blend of 35 grain and malt whiskies; it is intended for making mixed drinks.

Black Label is 80 proof, is a blend of about 40 whiskies, each one of which is aged for at least 12 years. Blue Label is Johnnie Walker’s premium brand 80–86 proof blend with no age statement. Bottles are numbered serially and sold in a stunning silk-lined box accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. It is one of the most expensive blended Scotch whiskeys on the market, with prices of about $200 to $500 per bottle. That’s the product.

 

The Presentation Problem

Alas, it seems that some people may have the practice of putting the Red Label in the Blue Label bottle. And that is the presentation problem. Even if there is no monetary gain made here whatsoever, from a halachic view, this practice could possibly be as treif as the worm in a margarita.

 

The Prohibition

The prohibition is known as gneivas daas, fooling or deceiving others in physical practice. The Gemara in Chullin (94a) cites Shmuel as saying that the prohibition applies to everyone.

The Gemara in Chulin (94a) also cites a Braisa which discusses four examples given by Rabbi Meir of things that are forbidden on account of the issue of gneivas daas.

  1. It is forbidden to repeatedly invite someone to a meal when you know that he will refuse.
  2. It is forbidden to repeatedly offer gifts when you know that he will refuse.
  3. It is forbidden to appear to open a new barrel of wine (when one is actually opening it for a previous sale) unless one informs of the real reason he has opened it. [The underlying issue is that the wine will not last as long now that the barrel is open and it is a big favor to the guest, much like opening a brand new bottle of Blue Label would be nowadays.]
  4. It is forbidden to offer someone oil from an empty flask to anoint oneself when one knows full well that the person will refuse it. If, however, he is offering the oil to show (others –Rashi) his fondness for the person it is permitted.

We see, therefore, that gneivas daas is violated even if there is a non-financial deception. This is true in the case of dressing up Red Label in Blue Label packaging at a kiddush or simcha.

 

Worse Than Lying

In regard to the verse of midvar sheker tirchak, stay away from a false matter, there is a three way debate as to how we understand this pasuk. The Chofetz Chaim rules in his Ahavas Chessed that there is an out and out prohibition to lie. This is in accordance with the view of some Rishonim. Other Rishonim hold that the verse is merely good advice, but not Halacha. A third opinion holds that it is applicable to judges adjudicating law. Generally speaking, the view of the Chofetz Chaim is normative Halacha.

The prohibition of deceiving, however, is a prohibition according to all opinions. According to the Sefer Yereim and the Ritvah it is a biblical prohibition. According to the SMaK the prohibition is d’rabanan—but all hold that it is a full blown prohibition.

 

Similar Case of Gneivas Daas

The Mishna in Bava Metzia (59b) tells us that it is forbidden to mix older produce with newer produce and sell them together as one package. This is a parallel to our case, but our case is worse since in the whiskey only the inferior product is being presented. The Gemara in Bava Metziah 60b has more cases where a seller makes animals and animal skins look newer through artificial means. These too are forbidden on account of gneivas daas. While it is true that these cases in Bava Metziah are dealing with a sale, but if we combine this with the Braisa in Chullin then we have a parallel.

Does everyone agree to this? It would seem that it may well be a debate among the Rishonim. The Rashba in Chullin (94a) and the Rosh (Perek 18) hold that if the item is a matana, a gift, there is no prohibition of gneivas daas. Tosfos (Chullin 94b DHM “Amar”) and the Ritva (Chullin 94b “Rav Ashi”) hold that it does apply even by a free gift. How do we understand the distinction between the cases of the Braisa and the free gift according to those authorities who hold that it is not considered gneivas daas? It would seem that since the deceiver is giving something to the person, that makes up a bit for the deception.

 

Other Applications of Gneivas Daas

There are a number of other contemporary applications of this prohibition that apply according to all Rishonim. These applications apply across the board in numerous industries.

 

Sockpuppeting

In the age of the internet, a number of people adopt other identities. While anonymity is permitted, when it is used to give off the impression that person X is really someone else—this is clear gneivas daas. There are magazines and newspapers that do this as a matter of course, where letters to the editor are printed by an author of an article that he himself had penned.

 

Phony Amazon Reviews

If a company produces a product they will often be tempted to write their own reviews and post them on Amazon.com. This too would clearly be a case of gneivas daas. It falsely gives off the impression that there are more readers as well as falsely inflating the rate of satisfaction.

 

Falsely Reporting Internet Hits

There are websites and papers that falsely report their internet traffic or distribution. This too is gneivas daas, deceiving those who think that the site receives more visitors than it actually does, or deceiving its advertisers. Falsely inflating how many issues are printed is also gneivas daas.

 

Serious Issue

There is a fascinating Shaarei Teshuva (3:181) which states that the leniency of “mutar l’shanos mipnei hashalom, sometimes it is permitted to tell a white lie to maintain peace” does not apply to gneivas daas. Gneivas daas is an important and essential value in Torah Judaism. Whether it is pouring Red Label into a Blue Label bottle, or inflating web hits, printing numbers or using false emails to create wrong impressions, we must realize that it is a serious halachic issue that should not be ignored or trampled upon.


The author can be reached at [email protected].

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