It is a Jew’s job to behave uprightly and honestly to the utmost of their ability. One should always be honest in one’s dealings and not seek to deceive others. The rabbis state that our yes should mean yes and our no should mean no.
It is a misconception that the Torah tells us we are not allowed to lie in the Ten Commandments. That particular commandment is about court evidence. The prohibition on dishonesty is to be found later, in Leviticus 19:11.
The rabbis tell us that dishonesty extends even to messing around with a person to get them to think something for a joke.
The term for this is geneivat da’at – in English deception, or literally stealing their understanding. This is derived from Jacob’s deception of Laban, and Absalom his father David.
The origin of the term is attributed to the Talmudic sage Samuel, who lived in Nehardea, who states in Chullin (94a): “It is forbidden to mislead people, even a non-Jew.”
The Talmudic “even” is notable. Deception of anyone is prohibited. Indeed, in business situations the rabbis give examples of how straightforward we must be, to the extent that if we buy an item and discover another more valuable item to be concealed within it, we must return the more valuable item to its rightful owner.
Among ourselves, we are only allowed to make a profit of one sixth over the cost of an item.
Of course, cheating in exams falls under this prohibition, because you are lying about your qualifications.
Recently another, more modern form of dishonesty has been uncovered: taking drugs in athletics.
The whole Russian team appears to be suspect. The International Olympics Committee considered banning all the Russian competitors, which would have been a reasonable penalty. Unfortunately it changed its mind. This could have the result of throwing suspicion over many competitors, and has caused untold damage to the competitions in which they participate.
The deception here is compounded by the health risks. Drugs are often used to disguise heavy use of steroids, which can take high tolls on health.
We are forbidden from intentionally damaging ourselves. At one point, the gymnastic teams of Romania and Bulgaria took the disgusting step of getting young girl gymnasts pregnant to enhance their flexibility.
The morality of such an act is utterly reprehensible, no matter how “scientifically” administered, not to mention the physical and psychological effects.
The implications of cheating in sport are very serious, as the drugs may well seriously alter the result of the event, and this has bearing on the whole business of sport and on the practice of betting on the results.
The greatest damage, though, of this most recent scandal appears to have been to athletics in general. The good name of the sport, the damage done to the name of Russian athletics and, of course, the suspicions raised against all the medallists over the past eight years, are all reasons why this dishonesty is utterly prohibited.
• Zvi Solomons is rabbi of the Jewish community of Berkshire. See www.JCoB.org