VERBAL DEFRAUDING

 

          The concept of fraud is commonly understood as related to financial dealings. Indeed, the Torah (Leviticus 25:14) is very specific in warning against defrauding anybody in the process of buying or selling.

          Strangely, another warning about fraud appears later in the same chapter (verse 17) without reference to finances. It says: “Do not defraud each other, and you shall fear your G-d”. What is the meaning of this generic fraud? The answer to this question is indicated in the book of Exodus (22:20): “Do not defraud or oppress the stranger”. It is clear from the context of the paragraph there that the verse is about fraud through words that aggrieve the other person.

          The Talmud (Bava Metzia 58b) clarifies the distinction between this form of fraud and financial fraud. It provides several examples of aggrieving statements that are forbidden. The common theme for all of them is that they embarrass people by mentioning events or periods in their past. The Talmud specifies, for example, that if people who had lived their lives badly have repented and turned their lives around, it is forbidden for others to talk about those old misdeeds.  Two of the very few Talmudic examples are about converts: it is wrong to associate the children of Jewish converts with the actions of their predecessors and it is similarly prohibited to remind converts who are now students of Torah about their former lives. Actually, our sages teach that when people convert they are like newborn babies with a new beginning.

          Our sages were very sensitive to the difficulties that converts may face as they join a Jewish community. They taught us that it is a Jewish mitzva to protect the dignity of our fellow human beings in general, with particular emphasis on converts. This is an important and valuable lesson for all of us to follow.

 

                                                                                                                            Judah Ari-Gur

 

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