Shalom Rabbi Fried,
I am looking to you for some insight and wisdom regarding the attached piece on the Holocaust that I received from my sister-in-law, which is obviously being circulated throughout the world. [Author’s note: This question refers to a Holocaust e-mail with graphic pictures, combined with misinformation that England has decided to discontinue any mention of the Holocaust from their school textbooks.]
After reading it, I forwarded it to several of my family and friends, and received a reply from my cousin, who said some of the information is a hoax. As a result, I feel that before I shared the piece with anyone, I should have verified that the content in its entirety is/was accurate. It would not be my personal intent to mislead or misinform anyone.
I would appreciate it if you would please offer your thoughts.
I understand your question to mean that if there is important, truthful information in the e-mail concerning the Holocaust, and that information is important to disseminate, would it still be appropriate to disseminate if it is coupled with false information? Would the good accomplished outweigh the negative of misleading people, albeit unintentionally?
The Jewish view on these types of issues is a resounding no. We are not permitted to disseminate falsehood even for a higher purpose. This is for a number of reasons.
Firstly, on the practical side, it won’t work. People will eventually figure out that there’s a falsehood mixed with the other information, and end up discrediting even the true information. Furthermore, they’ll probably discredit the provider of the information as well. There’s an old Yiddish witticism which says, “If you tell the truth you don’t need to remember what you said.”
Secondly, from a Torah perspective: The Torah says “Mid’var sheker tirchak,” which means “From words of falsehood distance yourself” (Shemot/Exodus 23:7). This seems to be a strange wording for a commandment. There is no commandment to “distance ourselves” from non-kosher food, or nearly any other prohibition. Why, when referring to falsehood, does the Torah use this expression?
There are two reasons. One is that lies are very easy to tell, and falsehood is everywhere. The Talmud points out that the word sheker, or lie, is spelled shin kuf reish. These three letters appear together in the Hebrew alphabet (in a different order). This shows us that lies are “very close to us,” and it’s so easy to fall for the inclination to lie. Emet, however, which means truth, is spelled aleph mem tav, which appear as far apart as possible in the alphabet (beginning, middle and end). This, says the Talmud, teaches us that truth is distant and one must search for truth. For this reason, we need to stay as far as possible from falsehood, as it pervades society and our lives.
There are numerous precedents in Jewish law prohibiting the use of falsehood to gain even spiritual goals. Those goals would be considered to be tainted by the falsehood with which they were attained. This would include attempting to promulgate the ugly truths of the Holocaust to a world increasingly full of deniers, by combined use of erroneous information.
It would be permitted to forward such an e-mail with an explicit qualification that there are some erroneous facts within. I would not, however, recommend doing so, as such a header will already cast a pall of suspicion on the entire message.
The path of the Jewish people is that of “Give truth to Jacob” (Micah 7:20). The Al-mighty is called “The G-d of truth.” His Word to the world, the Torah, is called the “Torah of truth” (Malachi 2:6).
In a world of Holocaust deniers, Arabs falsifying information and rewriting history, we need to be distinguished by the integrity gained by representing truth.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shalom Rabbi Fried,