Theft and Deception
Question: Some people are under the assumption that the Biblical prohibition
“Do not steal” applies only to stealing from a Jew. Is there a basis for
such an assumption?
Discussion: No, there is not. Stealing from a non-Jew, either from a private
person, corporation or government entity, is strictly forbidden min
ha-Torah. In a certain respect, stealing from a non-Jew is even worse
that stealing from a Jew, since it causes a greater level of chillul
Hashem. In addition, some poskim maintain that although the Biblical
prohibition against stealing from a Jew is limited to stealing more than the
value of a perutah, stealing from a non-Jew is forbidden min ha-Torah even
for an item valued less than a perutah.
Question: If a cashier at a non-Jewish owned store mistakenly returns too
much change or fails to charge for an item, is one required to make the
cashier aware of his mistake?
Discussion: If there is a chance – even a small one - that a chillul Hashem
will occur, e.g., the cashier might notice his mistake and realize that the
Jew hid something from him; or, the cashier intentionally “made a mistake”
in order to test the integrity of an Orthodox Jew, then one is halachically
obligated to notify the cashier of what happened. Even if there is no
possibility of causing a chillul Hashem, but there is an opportunity for
making a kiddush Hashem, e.g., the non-Jew will be impressed by the honesty
and integrity of an Orthodox Jew, then one is strongly urged to take the
opportunity to make a kiddush Hashem. If there is no possibility of a
chillul Hashem, and there is no opportunity for a kiddush Hashem, then one
is not obligated to notify the cashier of his mistake.
Question: If there is no possibility of chillul Hashem and there is no
opportunity for kiddush Hashem, is it permitted to deceive or trick a
non-Jewish cashier, e.g., to intentionally hide an item so that you are not
charged or falsely claim that an item was defective?
Discussion: It is strictly forbidden to deceive or trick any merchant,
Jewish or not. Doing so is considered “stealing” min ha-Torah which is
forbidden without any exception, as stated earlier. [The poskim disagree
whether or not one who was unaware of this halachah and deceived a non-Jew
is halachically required to return the item. Obviously, if a chillul
Hashem may result, then one is obligated to return the stolen items to the
Question: Is it permitted to purchase an item at a store with the intent of
using it for a short period of time and then returning it for full credit?
Discussion: The answer to this question will depend on the policy of the
individual store or chain of stores. Most stores would never allow such a
thing. It would be forbidden, therefore, to buy an item from such a store
with the intent of using it and returning it, since doing so is geneivas
da’as, misleading while engaging in deceptive behavior. Behaving with
Geneivas da’as applies equally against Jews and non-Jews. Quite
possibly, purchasing an item with the intention of using it briefly and then
returning it may be considered theft as well, since the store incurs an
actual loss when it is forced to repackage and restock the returned item.
But there are some mega-stores and chains which may permit their associates
to sell an item to a customer even if they are clearly aware that the
customer intends to return the item after trying it out for a short period
of time. Their market research shows that invariably, some customers change
their minds and decide to keep the purchase even though initially they had
no intention to do so. Other customers are forgetful or lazy and fail to
return the item within the time period allotted, thereby forfeiting a refund
and remaining with only a credit to be used in the store. More often than
not, the store makes money on these customers as well, and even if the store
is “outsmarted” occasionally, in the long run it is profitable to allow this
The only way to find out what the store policy is, is to ask. Until that
information is obtained, it would be forbidden to purchase an item with the
intent of using it briefly and then returning it. According to many poskim,
geneivas da’as is forbidden min ha-Torah, and needless to say, one must
be particularly stringent with a Torah prohibition.
1. Shach, C.M. 348:2, followed by all of the poskim.
2. Tosefta, Bava Kama 10:8, and Minchas Bikkurim.
3. Aruch ha-Shluchan, C.M. 348:1.
4. Rama, C.M. 348:2; Shach 3; Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav, Gezeilah 4.
5. See Mordechai, Bava Kama 10:158, quoting Yerushalmi and Knesses
ha-Gedolah, C.M. 183:54
6. Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav, Gezeilah 4; Aruch ha-Shulchan 348:2.
7. See Sha’ar Mishpat 348:2, Machneh Ephaim, Gezeila 4, Aruch ha-Shulchan
348:2. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv is quoted (Sefer Mamon Yisrael, pg. 45) as ruling
leniently on this question.
8. C.M. 228:6.
9. See Ritva, Chullin 94b; Sefer Koveitz on Rambam Hilchos De’os 2:6. See
also Seforno, Vayikra 25:14, who writes that geneivas da’as is included in
the prohibition against ona’as devarim.
10. In addition, the chillul Hashem factor must also be taken into
account. If the sales person recognizes the true intent of the buyer and
that will cause him to look negatively at an Orthodox Jew, it must be avoided.
Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Torah.org.
Rabbi Neustadt is the Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Harabbonim of Detroit and the Av Beis Din of the Beis Din Tzedek of Detroit. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org