The “We Have No More Room in the School” Lie

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    by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Sefas Tamim Foundation

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    QUESTION:  I work for a school in an affluent community. A wealthy individual bought a house in the area and wishes to register his kids in the school. My boss told me to tell him that there is no room in the school, and he must pay for another classroom if he wants to register his child. This is a lie – there is tons of room. What should I do?

    ANSWER: There are a number of issues at play here. Firstly, there is participating in theft. The Torah absolutely forbids any act of theft — even if one is merely one player in the act.

    Lifnei Iver

    There is also the issue of lifnei iver, placing a stumbling block before the blind, found in Vayikra (19:14) to your own boss, as your lie will enable a theft. There are three forms of the prohibition of “misleading the blind.” There is

    • A] the notion of causing someone to stumble in Halacha – Jewish law
    • B]  the notion of giving someone bad advice
    • C] physically placing an object that is harmful before another person.

    Most authorities hold that one who violates type a is also in violation of type b (see Igros Moshe YD I #3, Achiezer vol. III, 65:9 and 81:17). It is interesting to note that Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that violating type a is a sin between man and Hashem, not between man and his friend (IM OC IV #13).

    Boss Is Doing It Willfully

    One may suggest that perhaps your boss is purposefully violating halachah. He’s  not “blind” — he is stealing with full knowledge! The Rambam addresses this question in his comments to the Mishnah in Shviis (5:6): “This means to say that when temptation and the evil inclination have shut the eyes of an individual, do not assist him in adding to his blindness.”

    While this is true regarding willful type a violations, it is not so clear-cut regarding a willful violation under type b — giving someone bad advice. Rav Chaim Ozer Grozinsky (Achiezer ibid) rules that when the “victim” is willfully doing something against his best interests, the Rishonim hold there is no prohibition. Rav Feinstein, zt’l, agrees. The Rambam, however, rules that there is a prohibition (Hilchos Rotzayach 12:14). Generally speaking, the rule of thumb is to be stringent.

    Rabbinic Violation

    There is another issue too. The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 6b) explains that the actual prohibition of lifnei iver is violated by the enabler only when the victim could not have violated the prohibition without the enabler. This is called “trei ivrah d’nahara” — two sides of the river. The classic example is of a nazir who vowed not to drink wine, and you are the only person who can hand him the wine, since it is on the other side of the river. If the wine is on the same side of the river, it may involve a different, rabbinic prohibition called mesaya lidei ovrei aveirah — assisting the hands of evildoers.

    Who cares whether it is biblical or rabbinical? Well you may, for one. The reason is that the Dagul Mervavah (on the Shach in YD 151:6) holds that when the violator is willful and it is only a rabbinic violation, there is no rabbinic prohibition either. This could perhaps be a factor in whether one may continue working there.

    Two Caveats Making It Biblical Again

    There is a fascinating caveat to all this given both by the Chofetz Chaim (Laws of LH 9:1) and the Chazon Ish (YD 62:13). If the enabler instigated it, then it remains a Biblical prohibition!

    Another caveat is known as the Mishnah Lamelech’s caveat (Hilchos Malveh uLoveh 4:2). The author, Rav Yehudah ben Shmuel Rosanes (1657–1727), chief rabbi of the Ottoman Empire, writes: if the only other enablers are Jewish too, then the prohibition of lifnei iver is still violated.

    Do we rule like the Dagul Mervavah that says that there is no rabbinic prohibition when the violator is willfully violating it? Rav Moshe Feinstein (IM YD I #72) rules that one can only rely upon the Dagul Mervavah in combination with another factor. The Mishnah Berurah (347:7) disagrees with the Dagul Mervavah.

    Onaas Mammon Issue

    We also find a concept in halachah called onaas mamon. This concept, found in chapter 227 of the Choshen Mishpat section of the Shulchan Aruch, invalidates a sale when the price is either 16.7 percent above or below the market value of the item. Landed properties would be excluded from this law, but it does apply both to movable properties as well intangibles.

    Halachic authorities debate whether the law is applicable when there is a range of prices and no set market value (See Bais Yoseph, CM, 209 that says there is no onaah in such cases while the Bach and Shach state that there is). Rav Vosner, zt’l, in Shaivet HaLevi vol. V #218 concludes that there is onaah when there is no set price in the market, in accordance with the aforementioned Shach and Bach.

    The Rulings

    In regard to the verse in Parashas Mishpatim (Shmos 23:7) “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 Chesed 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 binding halachah. A third opinion holds that the biblical prohibition is limited to the parameters of the verse under discussion and is applicable to judges adjudicating law. Generally speaking, the view of the Chofetz Chaim is normative halachah.

    While some authorities will give dispensation under pressing circumstances to follow the other view, here a lie is being used to elicit money unfairly from the wealthy parent. The line has been crossed to actual theft.

    You must tell the boss that you will not be party to a lie and that if the boss wishes to tell the parent this message he must do so himself. If you feel that you will be fired unless you conform, then word it in such a way in which you are not lying by saying, “He told me to tell you that there is no room.” You may not further a lie that is used to illicitly take money from someone else.

    The Shulchan Aruch rules that a gabbai tzedakah who takes tzedakah money from someone who cannot afford it and is just giving because he was guilted into doing so out of embarrassment is in violation of theft. The same would be true here, because the wealthy man is not donating to the school out of altruism but because he was cornered into doing so.

    ***Why not subscribe to the Sefas Tamim Emes Newsletter on the parsha?  Each week there are four columns on Emes written by Rabbi Yair Hoffman.  Send an email with the word “subscribe” to [email protected]. ***


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    39 Comments
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    Dov
    Dov
    1 year ago

    I’m surprise at the question and the drawn out answer. Any eight year old child could answer it in 2 seconds, that it’s a disgusting thing to do and one should never work for such a person.

    Sessions
    Sessions
    1 year ago

    Schools and mosdeos are totally unregulated by even their own brand rabbonim, all violations of the Torah are done in the name of Torah unfortanetly.

    My daughter was told, by her Klos. School, she has to collect money for the Liberary, so that they will get new books, not a single new book was purcahsed. Besides they get tons of money from the government for books.

    The same is the abuse that goes on the raising of tution with huge numbers because of a very temporary inflation and minmial raises.

    Then comes the manditory building fees so that they can build HUGE buildings with wedding halls, ehere is the consideration, the sense of entitlemnt.

    What bothers me even more is using the Bochirim as fundraisers on the nicest family times days, like Chanuka and Purim, making it so stressful on them and all around. They are not fundraisers and I am OK with average buildings, like I went to when I was younger.

    True everything is up, but Tution was never such a big percent of our budget, this is greed.

    Mikey
    Mikey
    1 year ago

    Unfortunately, this is not a “made up” question, but happens on a regular basis is some places. Subterfuge (or outright lies) being told in the name of fundraising.
    While we need to support & supplement all local mosdos income, I am also very uncomfortable using kids to fundraise.

    Blue
    Blue
    1 year ago

    But we wonder why our children don’t grow up to be Yirei Shomayim & instead go OTD in ever increasing numbers. “Actions speak louder than words”

    D. B. Cooper
    D. B. Cooper
    1 year ago

    Is this for real?

    Enough
    Enough
    1 year ago

    What a surprise. See you kidding this has been going on for years. If theirs big money in the family even undeserving youngster are excepted And those that worked hard to get grades are turned away. This is nothing new.
    The problem is yeshivas not today are privately owned institutions

    Get self aggrandizing erev-rav out of hinuch
    Get self aggrandizing erev-rav out of hinuch
    1 year ago

    Actually, this article is not addressing the most common usage of this “no room” lie, which is to deny admission to whoever the snubby-erev-rav doesn’t deem cool enough.

    Sheldon Weinles
    Sheldon Weinles
    1 year ago

    This article disturbing in many ways.

    First, the employer’s order to the questioner, of course.

    But moreso that it takes all this lomdus to reach an obvious conclusion. There is a problem when something so obviously unethical and dishonest cannot be condemned without all the analysis. This betrays a growing problem that mitzvos have devolved into legalistic halachic playgrounds for the clever and unscrupulous.

    Woe is us.

    Lets Talk
    Lets Talk
    1 year ago

    For all we are paying, can we get a line item by line item dollar amount, description of what goverment funds the school gets, lets say for lunch per child, busing per child, special education grants, book loans, communication, computer, security.

    Lets compare that with what they got just 20 years ago, and now lets see if all their cry for money is justifed.

    Just for Covid testing alone, how much money?

    The argument is that there is too much under the carpet money, that IS our business, as they say no money, as they make dinners and parlor meetings, especially the money that is suppose to go to the parents as a subsidy but is going directly to the school, like vouchers in NY, like child care in NY, but somehow schools still came up with way to create new fees, like a voucher managemnt fee, or bus route on sunday fee (lakewood), etc ect.

    We can never win?

    Yossie
    Yossie
    1 year ago

    all the schools got PPP Sba loans Cares money
    during covid they were closed for months
    they did NOT lower tuition nor did they refund the parents one penny
    they are all private business (except for chasidishe mosdos that are part of a kehila)
    i pay full tuition but i never give them extra
    its a private buisness you pay building fund
    at the end of the day
    the owner of the school will sell and put the money in his pocket

    DLZ
    DLZ
    1 year ago

    Who needs antisemitic newspapers we shoot ourselves in the foot with articles like this!! Please remember the children reading this will be affected and possibly lose respect for Torah values.
    The posted picture must be removed.
    Any crisis we have be it in the chinuch world, shidduchim, caring for our needy, etc can be brought back to this.
    Please consider editing the article. Or ask a shayla of a Rav.

    moses schwartz
    moses schwartz
    1 year ago

    chazak !!!!!!!!! chazak !!!!!!!!!!!!

    sender zeyv
    sender zeyv
    1 year ago

    Of course this means of squeezing money from a rich person by using a lie is wrong. But Rabbi Hoffman’s “lamdus” and reasoning is almost all wrong! It is geneivas daas, but claiming lifne iver and outright theft is a stretch.

    Oni
    Oni
    1 year ago

    Gut morgen! At least the Gvir has options!

    Seichel Hayoshor
    Seichel Hayoshor
    1 year ago

    This question was theoretical, not a real story.