Geneivas Da’as

Question #1: “Stealing” Minds

How do you “steal someone’s mind”? Is that like borrowing his brains?

Question #2: Potential Guests

May I invite someone for a meal, knowing that he always declines invitations?

Question #3: Mistaken Identity

Someone donated money to our organization, but it is clear that she did not realize what we do. Must I bring this to her attention?

Question #4: Permission to Deceive

Am I ever permitted to be deceptive?


When someone deceives his fellowman, he may violate two different prohibitions of the Torah. The first is called ona’ah, cheating or taking unfair advantage. Selling something that is definitely worth less than the money received qualifies as ona’ah that the Torah forbids. This includes selling merchandise that is defective in a non-obvious way, or engaging in a transaction on the basis of insider information. It also includes over-presenting a product or disguising its blemishes.

In most circumstances, if ona’ah was violated, the cheated party has a halachic right to get his money back or to be compensated the difference in value. There are many more details concerning the prohibition of ona’ah, which I discussed in a previous article, How Much May I Charge.

Geneivas da’as

This article will deal with a different form of deception called geneivas da’as, literally “stealing a mind.” This means that a person misleads someone else concerning a matter or item. This is prohibited, even when the deceived party does not lose money or value as a result. It applies even in non-financial matters; intentionally misleading someone is prohibited as geneivas da’as.

There are several halachic differences between ona’ah and geneivas da’as. As I mentioned above, if a situation violates ona’ah, the cheated party may be entitled to invalidate the entire sale, or to receive back the amount of the deception. (In some instances when the amount of deception is small relative to the value of the sale, halacha does not require restitution. I refer you to the above-referenced article.) On the other hand, geneivas da’as does not require restitution, since there was no direct financial benefit as a result of the deception that occurred.

Here are a few examples of geneivas da’as:

Deception without cheating

1. The deceiver convinces his customer that the item has a benefit that it does not have. This is forbidden, even though the feature does not increase the item’s sale value.

2. Misleading a customer to think that he is getting a bargain, when he is buying something at its correct price, is geneivas da’as. In other words, it is prohibited to tell someone that the item is being sold at a discount, when the purchaser is paying the actual worth of the merchandise. There is deception going on, even though there is no cheating. Notwithstanding that the buyer is not losing any money, he is still being deceived, and this is a violation of geneivas da’as.

A purchaser may also violate geneivas da’as, if he attempts to convince the seller that the item is worth less than it really is. Also, note that there might be a prohibition of ona’ah if your customer assumes the product to be higher quality than it is, and therefore, agrees to a price that is inappropriately high.


3. Here is another instance that involves geneivas da’as: someone donated money to tzedakah, specifically requesting that the money be used for a particular cause, but the money is instead diverted to a different purpose. For example, taking funds earmarked to help destitute Torah scholars and using the money for people who are not scholars or not even observant of mitzvos involves geneivas da’as (Orach Meisharim 24:7). Since this is a violation of geneivas da’as, it applies equally if the donor is non-Jewish.

However, if the use is included in the term the donor expressed when he made his donation, it is not geneivas da’as. For this reason, we can explain the famous, although possibly apocryphal, anecdote attributed to the Ponevitzer Rav. A person who was not observant made a large donation to theRav, specifying that the money be used for Torah study by students who would not be wearing yarmulkas. The Ravused the money to fund a Beis Yaakov, which certainly met the requirements as expressed by the donor, although it may not have been what he intended.

Similarly, it is said that the Klausenberger Rav, who did not accept donations for his Torah mosados from individuals who were not Shomrei Shabbos, accepted donations from non-observant individuals for his “institutions,” and used the funds for Laniado Hospital.

Mezuzah for a gentile

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that the following case is an example of geneivas da’as: A gentile asked his Jewish landlord to place a mezuzah on the gentile’s door. Rav Moshe prohibits placing an invalid mezuzah on the door, because of geneivas da’as (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:184).

Giddin and gentiles

In parshas Vayishlach, the Torah teaches us the mitzvah of gid hanasheh, the prohibition of eating the sciatic nerve, which runs along and over the thigh bone. The Mishnah (Chullin 93b) states that it is permitted to send the leg portion of a shechted animal to a non-Jew with the gid hanasheh intact, because it is obvious that it is there. The Gemara is highly curious as to what the Mishnah is trying to teach. There is nothing wrong with a non-Jew eating gid hanasheh, since this is not one of the mitzvos which he is commanded. If the concern is that the non-Jew may sell the meat to a Jew who does not realize that the gid hanasheh is still there, why would a Jew be purchasing unmarked meat from a non-Jew?

After the Gemara presents several attempts to explain the Mishnah, the Gemara concludes that the Mishnah is teaching us about geneivas da’as. It is prohibited to mislead the non-Jew into thinking that you are selling him a portion of meat in which the gid hanasheh has already been removed, notwithstanding that this piece of information is basically irrelevant to him. Although the removal of the gid does not create any greater value to the non-Jew, he should not be given the impression that you sold him a product that had greater value to the Jewish seller than it really did.

Although this level of deception is not considered ona’ah (because it makes no financial difference to the purchaser), it is still prohibited as geneivas da’as, because the purchaser feels a small level of obligation, thinking that he received a product that had more value to the seller than to him, when indeed this was not true. In some future matter, he might decide to give you something to which you are not entitled, because he feels an unjustified sense of obligation to you.

Shemuel’s crossing

Once, the great amora, Shemuel, while traveling, crossed a river on a ferryboat. He asked his attendant to pay the ferry master for their fares. The attendant bartered with the ferry master, and gave him a slaughtered chicken as payment, implying that this chicken was kosher, when it was not. This act on the part of his attendant irked Shemuel, since this was an act of geneivas da’as. Notwithstanding that, to the non-Jewish ferry master, kosher and non-kosher chicken have the identical value, leading him to think that the chicken was properly kosher when it was not implies that you are giving the non-Jew something more valuable (from your perspective) than it was.

Thus, we see that giving someone an impression that you are doing him a bigger favor than you actually are violates geneivas da’as. However, we should note that most authorities contend that you violate geneivas da’as only when you say or do something that misleads the other person, but if you acted as you typically would, and there is no reason for him to think that you are misleading him, you are not in any violation.

Therefore, if the other person deceives himself, there is no violation of geneivas da’as. An example of this is when a person assumes that you attended an event specifically in his honor, but you work in that neighborhood where the event took place. Since younever said or implied that you made the trip especially for him, this is not geneivas da’as. Geneivas da’as is only if you say or do something that might lead him to such a self-deception. Therefore, it is forbidden to imply to someone that you made a special trip to attend his simcha, when, in fact, you had to be in that area anyway.

Two concerns

Geneivas da’as involves two concerns, one for the deceived party and the other for the deceiver.

It is also damaging to the individual who does the deceiving because he habituates himself to live with untruth. Of course, this affects his neshamah, and a person must train himself to live with truth.

This might be a reason why the Rambam discusses the laws of geneivas da’as in two different places: in Hilchos Dei’os (2:6), where he usually discusses how we are to develop our personalities in a Torah way, and in Hilchos Mechirah (18:1), where he discusses the laws of business honesty and ona’ah.


The Gemara mentions several instances of geneivas da’as that have nothing to do with financial matters. An example of this is begging someone repeatedly to join you for a meal, when you do not really want him to come, and you are inviting him because you know that he will turn down the invitation (Chullin 94a). This is prohibited because the invited party feels some level of obligation to reciprocate this false invitation, and it also trains the inviter to act falsely, pretending that he wants to have this guest when he does not. Similarly, it is forbidden to send someone gifts repeatedly knowing that he does not accept them. The giver wants the intended recipient to feel indebted to him, without it costing the giver anything.

At this point, let us discuss the second of our opening questions: “May I invite someone for a meal, knowing that he always declines invitations?”

If I truly want him to visit me, there is no violation of geneivas da’as. If I don’t necessarily want him to visit, I may invite him a few times to show my respect for him. However, once he has made it clear that he does not want to accept the invitation, I should invite him only if I truly want him to come. We will also see, shortly, that if I feel that people are not showing him proper respect, I may continue to invite him (even if I don’t really want him to come), if I feel that this may influence others to respect him.

The charlatan

Here are a few more examples of geneivas da’as:

Someone who acts as a big tzadik in front of people, but is, in private, not halachically meticulous (Tosafos, Bechoros 31a s.v. vechulan and s.v. ika). This display of righteousness is a form of deception (see Sotah 21b; 22b).

Implying to someone that you did something special for him when you didn’t.

Acting as if you are someone’s best buddy, but your intention is for something else. You are misleading him to think that you are his friend. In other words, where someone is אחד בפה ואחד בלב, his actions or verbal statements imply one goal, but his heart has a different goal, he is in violation of geneivas da’as (Orach Meisharim).

Why is it called geneivas da’as?

Geneivas da’as, literally, “stealing a mind,” means creating a false impression – that is, deluding a person, i.e., giving him a false perception of reality. The Gemara (Chullin 94a) rules asur lignov da’as ha’beriyos, “it is prohibited to steal someone’s mind.”

At this point, we can address the opening question: How do you ‘steal someone’s mind?’ Is that like borrowing his brains?

No, it is not. Geneivas da’as, which can literally be translated as “stealing his mind,” means to mislead or deceive him, even when the misled party is not losing anything material as a result. Simply leaving him with a wrong impression violates the prohibition.

Mistaken identity

At this point, we can begin discussing the third of our opening questions: “Someone donated money to our organization, but it is clear that she did not realize what we do. Must I bring this to her attention?”

I was once faced with this type of situation. Let me present what happened: A school that I taught in asked me to visit a gentleman who had, a few years before, made a very generous donation. After a bit of work locating him and being able to schedule an appointment with him, it was quite clear to me that he was confusing me with someone else, and that he might have been confusing the school’s program with that of another institution. In other words, there seemed to be a case of mistaken identity. Was I required to call this to his attention?

Anyone who has this question should address it to his own rav or posek. I can tell you what I did under the circumstances, which was a split-second decision without any opportunity either to research the shaylah or to discuss it with anyone.

First of all, I had not tried to deceive the potential donor. I had been supplied with accurate information that he had made a few very large donations, and that the school had tried to be in touch with him several times, unsuccessfully, in recent years. None of this involved any deception.

I presented to him many of the special, and perhaps unique, features of our institution and emphasized aspects that I thought would attract him to make another substantive donation to our cause. None of this involved any deception.

At some point in the conversation, it became clear to me that he was confusing me with someone else whom he had met previously. To this day, I do not know with whom he was confusing me, but I certainly made no attempt to create any deception.

I neither denied nor sustained his assumption that we had met before. I simply noted that he had made very significant donations in the past, and that we were hoping he would be interested in continuing the relationship.

In short, I think I handled the situation in a way that was completely honorable from a halachic perspective.

I am sure that our readers want to know if the organization actually did receive the hoped-for donation. Unfortunately, it did not.

Permission to deceive

At this point, let us discuss the last of our opening questions: “Am I ever permitted to be deceptive?”

Notwithstanding that geneivas da’as is forbidden, and it appears that most rishonim prohibit it min haTorah, there are a few instances that may appear as if they are geneivas da’as, but are permitted halachically. In other words, although they appear to be geneivas da’as, they are not.

One situation is when you do something that otherwise would be geneivas da’as, such as, you tell people that a person is a greater Torah scholar than he really is, because your goal is that others will treat him with the respect that he deserves.

Dealing in kind

There is another instance in which halacha permits someone to overlook the geneivas da’as that will result. When dealing with someone dishonest, it is permitted to act deceitfully, if it is necessary to protect yourself. For this reason, it was permitted for Shimon and Levi to deal deceitfully with Shechem.


The Gemara tells us that the great tanna, Rabbi Yehoshua, the rebbe of Rabbi Akiva, was asked: “What is the best means to become wealthy?” Rabbi Yehoshua advised that, aside from being very careful in one’s business dealings, the most important factor is to daven to He Who owns all wealth (Niddah 70b). A Jew must realize that Hashem’s Torah and His awareness and supervision of our fate is all-encompassing. Making this realization an integral part of our thinking is the true benchmark of how His kedusha influences our lives.

The true believer in Hashem and His Torah understands that every aspect of his life is directed by Hashem, and that the only procedures we follow in any part of our lives are those that the Torah sanctions.

The Prohibition of Chanufah

According to some opinions, Yaakov may have been guilty of chanufah in his interactions with Eisav in this week’s parsha. What is chanufah and what did Yaakov do?

Question #1: Financial predicament

“Our yeshivah is in desperate financial shape. The father of one of our students is, himself, not observant, but he is extremely well-connected. If we make him Guest of Honor at our banquet, we can probably bring in many hundreds of thousands of dollars through his business and personal connections. Is there any halachic problem with our doing this?”

Question #2: Communal predicament

“There is an individual in our community who has been very helpful to the frum community but who is not observant. Are we permitted to honor him with an aliyah?”

Question #3: Kiruv predicament

Chani asks: “An old classmate of mine has fallen far from Yiddishkeit, unfortunately, and I believe that I am the only frum friend with whom she still keeps contact. Tragically, she recently became engaged to a non-Jew, and she desperately wants me to attend the engagement party. She knows that I do not approve of this relationship. May I attend, because I am concerned that, should I not show up, she will cut off her last contact with anything Jewish?”


All of the above questions require us to study the Torah’s prohibition against chanufah (sometimes pronounced “chanifah“), a word usually, but somewhat inaccurately, translated as “flattery.” Although the word chanufah in Modern Hebrew means “flattery,” and, indeed, is even occasionally used by Chazal in this sense, the prohibition against chanufah has a different meaning. Chanufah is the deception that occurs when someone encourages the performance of misdeeds, aveiros, or when someone fraudulently misrepresents something as Torah or as acceptable behavior when it is not.

The primary case of chanufah is when someone sees or knows that a person sinned and tells the sinner that he did nothing wrong or, worse still, tells the sinner that the sinful act was the correct thing to do. We can refer to this case as “first degree chanufah,” a sin that has very serious ramifications, as we will soon see. The person who violates the prohibition of chanufah is sometimes called a mechaneif, a chanaf, or a chanfan, all of which are different ways of saying the same thing. The Gemara states that chanafim are one of the four groups of people she’einam mekablei penei hashechinah, who will not be allowed to welcome the Shechinah, Hashem’s Divine Presence (Sotah 42a).

Which prohibition does one violate?

According to many Rishonim (Yerei’im; Ramban’s Torah Commentary to Bamidbar 35:33), there is a specific prohibition of the Torah, one of the 613 mitzvos, called chanufah, which is derived from the words of the Torah, velo sachanifu es ha’aretz (Bamidbar 35:33). Those authorities who do not count chanufah as one of the 613 mitzvos still agree with the prohibitions that we will describe, but categorize its violation under one of the other mitzvos of the Torah.

Why is chanufah prohibited?

Chanufah is prohibited for several reasons. Firstly, we are supposed to encourage people to do Hashem’s Will and to discourage them from violating His wishes and instructions. Chanufah does the opposite: it causes the offender to continue his malevolent ways and dissipates his interest and enthusiasm to do teshuvah. Thus, it harms the sinner even more than anyone else. In addition, chanufah encourages other people to respect and emulate the evildoer’s nefarious deeds. Furthermore, by providing inappropriate value to the misdeed, it also causes chillul Hashem, desecrating Hashem’s Holy Name. Someone who flatters an evildoer demonstrates that he is more concerned not to offend the sinner than he is about being disrespectful to Hashem, which is an even bigger chillul Hashem (Tosafos, Sotah 41b s.v. oso).

Distorting the Torah

There is yet another reason why chanufah is prohibited: because it falsifies the Torah (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:51). The mechanef has told the sinner that what is prohibited is permitted, which, in itself, is a very severe transgression. The Maharshal (Yam shel Shelomoh, Bava Kama 4:9) proves that to falsify or distort the Torah is a sin on the level of yeihareig ve’al ya’avor, for which one is required to give up his life rather than violate it – which means that it is more serious than transgressing almost any of the other mitzvos, and it is certainly more serious than desecrating Shabbos or consuming non-kosher food. Falsifying the Torah is equivalent to denying the entire Torah, which is why one is required to sacrifice one’s life, rather than misrepresent a Torah truth. Thus, the most extreme situation of chanufah, in which one tells a wrongdoer that it is permitted to violate the Torah, includes the serious prohibitions of chillul Hashem and denying the authenticity of the entire Torah.

While some authorities rule that one must endanger oneself rather than violate chanufah (Shaarei Teshuvah, 3:188), others contend that this is not required. According to the second approach, chanufah should not be treated more seriously than Shabbos, kashrus and most other Torah laws that are superseded in a situation of risk to one’s life (see Tosafos, Sotah 41b s.v. kol). Those that disagree understand that chanufah, which includes denying the authenticity of the entire Torah, merits this level of serious consideration (see Igros Moshe).

The story of Agrippas

To demonstrate how serious this prohibition is, the Gemara (Sotah 41b) shares with us the following narrative: King Agrippas (who reigned towards the end of the Second Beis Hamikdash) was an excellent ruler, highly respectful of the Gedolei Torah of his era and committed to the observance and spreading of Torah and mitzvos. Notwithstanding his many good qualities, calling himself “King” over the Jewish people violated halachah, since he was descended from gentile slaves, and the Torah states, lo suchal laseis alecha ish nachri asher lo achicha hu, “You may not place over yourselves a gentile who is not your brother” (Devarim 17:15). Agrippas realized that he was not permitted to be king. When Agrippas reached the words of the Torah where it prohibits appointing a king unless he is native Jewish, his eyes began to tear, for he realized that he, himself, was ruling in violation of this law. At that moment, the Sages present told him, “Don’t worry, Agrippas. You are our brother,” thus approving his reign, in violation of the Torah.

The Gemara says that the leaders of the Jews should have been destroyed for violating chanufah, and, at that moment, many catastrophic occurrences befell the Jewish people and many lives were lost. Granted that Agrippas was concerned about Torah and mitzvos, the halachah still forbade him from being king. Although the Sages were in no position to admonish him, it was forbidden to encourage his misdeed. Instead,they should have remained silent (Tosafos, Sotah 41b s.v. oso), which would have been understood as a respectful disapproval.

Levels of chanufah

Although the most obvious instance of chanufah is telling an evildoer that he has done nothing wrong, any action that encourages sinful deeds is included under the general heading of chanufah. Rabbeinu Yonah, in his monumental work Shaarei Teshuvah (3:187-199), explains that there are nine levels of chanufah. The highest level is, of course, telling an evildoer that his performing a sin is acceptable. The other categories are all instances where the mechanef does not praise the sin itself, but lessens the gravity of the sin in an indirect way. Let us see how this manifests itself.

Praising publicly

Honoring a malefactor violates chanufah, even when the mechanef says nothing to justify the wrongdoer’s misdeeds. Although, in this instance, the mechanef did not overtly encourage or condone the misdeed, praising a sinner as a “good person” implies that the sin is acceptable, which is chanufah.

For example, Shimon, president of the yeshivah, decides to make Mr. Wealthy, whose fortune was made in very scandalous ways, the Guest of Honor at its annual dinner, since Mr. Wealthy’s contacts can certainly help the yeshivah.

Some contemporary authors (Lerei’acha Kamocha, Volume 1, Page 102) contend that one violates the prohibition of chanufah even when the person who sinned is unaware that what he is doing is wrong, such as, he is uneducated about Judaism.

Complimenting a sinner

Another category is someone who praises an evildoer in private, although he is careful not to praise the offender in the presence of other people, so that they are not influenced by his wicked ways. For example, Levi knows that it is chanufah to introduce Mr. Scoundrel publicly as a superior individual, and therefore he is careful not to praise Scoundrel in front of others. However, in private, Levi tells Scoundrel what a great guy he is. This is also chanufah, because the sinner, hearing the flattery, feels no motivation to repent; after all, even Levi thinks he is righteous. The wrongdoer fails to comprehend that he needs to reevaluate his priorities and his deeds, and this error was encouraged by the mechanef.

Failure to protest

Rabbeinu Yonah lists several other categories of chanufah, most of which we will touch on briefly. One type of chanufah is when someone refrains from reprimanding evildoers when he has the opportunity to do so. Another, similar example is that someone who is in a position to protest a misdeed and fails to do so violates chanufah. These last examples of chanufah are all passive, rather than active, yet we see clearly why the lack of protest encourages sin.

Example: A group that calls itself Jewish is backing an initiative that is against what Torah stands for. Failing to protest that this is not Judaism constitutes chanufah.

The halachah requires us to rebuke people whom we see doing something wrong, which is the mitzvah called tochachah. This mitzvah applies only as long as it is possible that the wrongdoer may listen.

Rules of tochachah

The halachah is that a person who is reproving someone for sinful actions must do so in a way that shows that he truly cares about the offender. The Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 6:7) writes that he should explain that he is helping the offender earn a greater share in olam haba. “One who sees his friend sinning or following a lifestyle that is not good has a mitzvah to influence him to return to the proper way and to inform him that he is harming himself… The one who rebukes must do so privately and in a pleasant manner and soft voice.”

Gad’s next-door neighbor is not observant. To bring the neighbor back to Yiddishkeit, Gad must show sincere care about his neighbor. Once the neighbor feels that Gad truly cares, the neighbor sees the beauty of a frum lifestyle. At this point, Gad can explain to his neighbor how beneficial it is to observe mitzvos.

Tochachah that will be ignored

However, the halachah is that when it is clear that a sinner will ignore reproof, one should not attempt to admonish him, as it says in Mishlei (9, 8): Do not rebuke a scoffer lest he come to hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. To quote the Gemara, Just as it is a mitzvah to say something that will be heeded, it is a mitzvah to refrain from saying something that will be disregarded (Yevamos 65b).

Remaining present

Another type of chanufah is someone who remains present while evildoers sin. For example, Asher is sitting with a group of people who are spreading gossip, speaking loshon hora, using foul language; or, the group includes scoffers who deride Torah and mitzvos. Asher knows that this group will not listen to his admonition, so there is no mitzvah of tochachah. Asher wants to know whether he may remain sitting among them. The answer is that it is prohibited to remain in their presence, because this implies that he agrees with and accepts their behavior. Staying with them encourages the sinners to continue their nefarious activities; they rally support for their evil ways from his ongoing presence. Granted that it may be counterproductive to admonish them, Asher may not remain with them and must “express” his disapproval by removing himself.

Honoring when inappropriate

Still another category of chanufah is someone who is careful not to speak in a flattering way about a wrongdoer, but, in order to maintain peace, he treats the wicked person respectfully, the way one treats a wealthy individual because of his financial success. Although there is a halachic source that one should honor the wealthy (Eruvin 86a), one may not honor the wicked.

After mentioning this category of chanufah, Rabbeinu Yonah limits its application. When the wicked person is in a position of authority, one may demonstrate respect to him in the way that people honor powerful people, out of fear. However, although one may act respectfully, one may not praise the wicked person. Treating him with respect is permitted, since everyone realizes that the evildoer is being treated with honor only because circumstances require it. This is the meaning of the statement of the Gemara: it is permitted to flatter evildoers in this world (Sotah 41b).

Other authorities offer a different explanation of this Gemara, contending that one may flatter a malefactor because not doing so could be dangerous (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:51).

Therefore, if Yissachar finds himself in a position where he must lobby a highly influential Jew who has distanced himself from his people, Yissachar must be careful to know exactly what he may say and what he may not.

An inappropriate appointment

One of Rabbeinu Yonah’s categories requires some explanation, since it does not fit the use of the word flattery, but fits well our definition of chanufah as misrepresenting or falsifying Torah. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that, when a highly-respected personality acts out of self-interest and appoints someone to a rabbinic position for which the appointee is not competent, this appointment meets the criteria for chanufah. Rabbeinu Yonah says that this misrepresents a Torah value because the appointment causes people to trust the appointee in a way that is unwarranted or to rely on his ability to rule on halachah. The result is a hindrance to proper Torah observance and the judicial system. Therefore, if Rabbi Dan appoints his son to a rabbinic position for which the son is not qualified, this constitutes chanufah. All of these qualify as chanufah because the result is a misrepresentation of the real essence of Torah.

At this point, I would like to address the last of the questions asked above:

Chani asks: “An old classmate of mine has fallen far from Yiddishkeit, unfortunately, and I believe that I am the only frum friend with whom she still keeps contact. Tragically, she recently became engaged to a non-Jew, and she desperately wants me to attend the engagement party. She knows that I do not approve of this relationship. May I attend, because I am concerned that, should I not show up, she will cut off her last contact with anything Jewish?”

Chani may not attend the party, since this is clearly endorsing the engagement and allowing the classmate to delude herself into thinking that what she is doing is not that bad.

Rav Moshe’s teshuvah

Having explained the rules of chanufah as categorized by Rabbeinu Yonah, I will present a responsum of Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:51) on the topic. The question pertained to a Jewish community that had received much benefit, both communally and individually, from a Jewish physician who was married to a gentile woman. The community had never given the physician an aliyah to the Torah or any other honor, but the rabbi of the community felt that it would be beneficial to honor the physician with opening and closing the aron kodesh. Rav Moshe notes that, although there are halachic issues involved in giving an aliyah to someone who does not observe Torah, there is no inherent halachic problem with having him open or close the aron kodesh. However, there is a potential halachic issue with whether giving a sinner this honor violates the prohibition against chanufah. Since the individual involved is flagrantly and publicly violating a basic aspect of Torah, honoring him in any way might violate the Torah.

Rav Moshe contends that, from the Gemara’s cases of chanufah, we see that the prohibition of chanufah includes only stating that something is permitted when it indeed is forbidden or praising an evildoer excessively. However, to praise an evildoer for the chesed he performs for the community is permitted. Rav Moshe even permits exaggerating a bit what this individual does in order to assure his future help and cooperation.

As a result, he rules that one may honor the intermarried physician with opening the aron kodesh, since this does not imply that we are accepting his objectionable lifestyle.


Many people feel that complimenting someone for what they have done is polite. We now realize that praising people is not always permissible, and that honoring someone may also not be the correct thing to do. Obviously, questions as to specific applications of this halachah should be referred to a posek.