Cheating Gentiles Is Forbidden

Written by Gil Student

The Accusation

O.K. to Cheat Non-Jews, Sanhedrin 57a .

This is perhaps one of the worst lies stated. The Talmud and post-Talmudic literature absolutely and unequivocally forbid lying to anyone, whether Jew or gentile. It is forbidden to cheat or to profit from lying. Consider the following passage:

Talmud Chullin 94a

As Shmuel said: It is forbidden to deceive anyone, even an idolatrous gentile.

This statement is affirmed in Maimonides' famous legal work the Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Deiot 2:6) and in the Shulchan Aruch (code of law - Choshen Mishpat 228:6). The concept is evident throughout Jewish literature. A few other places where it can be found as law are: Rabbi Yom Tov ben Avraham Alashbili, Chiddushei HaRitva, Chullin ad. loc.; Rabbi Yehudah HaChasid, Sefer Chasidim, 51; Rabbi Eliezer from Metz, Sefer Yerei'im, 124; Rabbi Elazar Azkiri, Sefer Chareidim, 29:20; Rabbi Yehudah Rosannes, Derech Pekudecha, 2:36:2; Rabbi Moshe from Coucy, Sefer Mitzvot HaGadol (Smag), 1:74, 2:155; Rabbi Yonah from Gerona, Sha'arei Teshuvah (Gates of Repentance), 3:184; Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, Chiddushei Maharsha - Chiddushei Aggadot, Chullin ad. loc.

There is, perhaps, no clearer denunciation than the following of Maimonides in his commentary to the Mishnah:

Maimonides, Commentary to the Mishnah, Keilim 12:7

And similiarly, lies, tricks, subterfuges, cheatings, and circumventions of gentiles are forbidden. They said [as quoted above] 'It is forbidden to deceive anyone, even an idolatrous gentile' and even more so when it can lead to the desecration of G-d's name. For that is a great sin and imbues in a person bad traits. And all these wicked actions G-d explained that He will be disgusted with them and with those who perform them, as it says: (Deuteronomy 18:12) "For anyone who does these is an abomination of G-d."

With this in mind, let us approach the text in question.

Talmud Bava Kamma 113b

Shmuel said: Their mistakes are permitted. Like when Shmuel bought from a gentile a golden bowl (with the seller thinking it was bronze) for four zuz and accidentally paid him one zuz less.

The Talmud is not stating that it is permissible to cheat a gentile. We saw above that the Talmud specifically forbids that. What the Talmud is saying is that normal business relations is for each party of a transaction to be responsible for their side of the deal. If Shmuel found a cheap bowl and, after accidentally underpaying, the seller did not count his money, then Shmuel was not obligated to correct the seller. The seller was negligent and Shmuel did not have to correct his mistake. For one's brothers and relatives one must go beyond the standard practice of business relations and correct all mistakes - return lost change, explain all misunderstandings, etc. However, for a business relation with whom there is mutual respect and understanding but nothing more, one conducts business by following convention.

In case the preceding has been unclear, let me restate it. A Jew is not obligated to correct a gentile's business mistakes. The Jew may not trick the gentile but if the gentile has been careless then the sale is nevertheless valid.

The following are just a few sources who state explicitly that the Talmud was only referring to accidental mistakes: Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Geneivah 7:8; Rabbi Mordechai Ashkenazi, Mordechai, end of Bava Batra; Chinuch, 258; Rabbi Shlomo Luriah, Yam Shel Shlomo, Bava Kamma 10:20; Rabbi Ephraim Navon, Machaneh Ephraim, Hilchot Gezeilah 4; Rabbi Yehoshua Falk, Sefer Me'irat Einayim, to Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 283:6, 359:3.


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Copyright 2000 Gil Student