In honor of Honesty Day (created by M. Hirsh Goldberg in the 1990s), Jewish Treats presents some fascinating insights into the Jewish view on the importance of honesty.

Much of what Jewish law has to say about honesty and its opposite, falsehood, comes by way of commandments that guide a person to living an honest life. For instance, there are prohibitions against bearing false witness and tampering with weights and measures. However, there are also examples in the Torah where it is apparent that a “little white lie” is sometimes appropriate. God doesn’t tell Abraham that Sarah said he was old because He chose to omit the hurtful part (Genesis 18:12 -13). Still and all, the Torah does enjoin that one keep themselves far from false matters (Exodus 23:7).

The Hebrew word for falsehood is sheker, spelled with the Hebrew letters shin, kuf and reish, which are the three letters (not in consecutive order) before the last letter of the Aleph Bet. This is in contrast to the emet, which means truth and whose letters are aleph, mem and tav, the first, middle and last letters of the Aleph Bet. The sages stated: Why are the letters of sheker close together, while those of emet are far apart? Falsehood is frequent, truth is rare. And why does falsehood stand on one foot (referring to the shape of each of its three letters) while truth has a brick-like foundation? Truth can stand, falsehood cannot” (Talmud Shabbat 104a).

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