By Yair Hoffman
Last month, President Joe Biden announced his vaccine mandate plan. The immediate repercussions, according to Check Point Software Technologies, a global cybersecurity company that tracks these things, was that it affected prices in one particular market, and also the number of vendors.
According to company spokesman Ekram Ahmed in an interview with Stateline, the typical cost of phony vaccine cards bearing a CDC logo was $100 on September 2. The day after Biden’s September 9 announcement, the price jumped to $200. Vendors of the illegal cards jumped from an estimated 1,200 people to over 10,000.
“The growth of the black market for fake vaccination cards has been exponential,” Ahmed said. “Our expectation is that the black market for fake coronavirus vaccination cards will continue to thrive as more policy requiring vaccination proof gets rolled out.”
The legal repercussions are also in. In New York, the state legislature has passed a bill that would make it a crime to possess or forge phony COVID-19 vaccine cards or digital passports. It’s also a federal crime to buy, use, or sell fraudulent documents that bear a federal agency’s seal. Violators face a fine and up to five years in prison.
These are some of the repercussions of COVID 19.
But there is a far greater ill that can, chalilah, affect Klal Yisrael. The black market has caused some individuals to start consuming spiritual “sisig.” What is physical sisig? Here is a description once written by New York Times food columnist Ligaya Mishan: “Ears, jowls, belly. They come brined, blanched, shattered, and fried, each tip blackened and alchemized, each pocket of fat approaching liquefaction. A raw yolk idles on top. Stab it and churn. This is sisig … arguably the greatest pork dish on earth.”
That’s physical sisig. Spiritual sisig is a Torah prohibition called “geneivas da’as.”
The prohibition of geneivas da’as means fooling or deceiving others in physical practice. The Gemara in Chullin (94a) cites Shmuel as saying that the prohibition applies to everyone.
The Gemara in Chullin 94a cites a beraissa that discusses four examples given by the Tanna Rabbi Meir of things that are forbidden on account of the issue of geneivas da’as.
• It is forbidden to repeatedly invite someone to a meal when you know that he will refuse.
• It is forbidden to repeatedly offer gifts when you know that he will refuse.
• It is forbidden to appear to open up a new barrel of wine when one is actually opening it for a previous sale unless one informs the person of the real reason he has opened it. (The underlying issue is that the wine will not last as long now that the barrel is open, so it is a big favor to the guest.)
• It is forbidden to offer someone oil from an empty flask to anoint himself when one knows full well that the person will refuse it. If, however, he is offering the oil to show (others; Rashi) his fondness for the person, it is permitted.
We see, therefore, that geneivas da’as is violated even if it is not a financial deception.
Worse Than Lying
In regard to the verse of “midvar sheker tirchak—stay away from a false matter,” there is a three-way debate as to how we understand this pasuk. The Chofetz Chaim rules in his Ahavas Chesed that there is an outright prohibition to lie. This is in accordance with the view of many Rishonim.
Other Rishonim hold that the verse is merely good advice, but not halachah. A third opinion holds that it is applicable to judges adjudicating law. Generally speaking, the view of the Chofetz Chaim is normative halachah.
The prohibition of deceiving, however, is a clear prohibition according to all opinions. According to the Sefer Yereim and the Ritva, it is a biblical prohibition. According to the Smak, the prohibition is d’rabbanan. But all hold that it is a full-blown prohibition.
Cases Of Geneivas Da’as
The Mishnah in Bava Metzia (59b) tells us that it is forbidden to mix older produce with newer produce and sell them together as one package. The Gemara in Bava Metzia 60b brings more cases, in which a seller makes animals and animal skins look newer through artificial means. These, too, are forbidden on account of geneivas da’as. While it is true that these cases in Bava Metzia are dealing with a sale, if we combine this with the beraissa in Chullin then we have a parallel.
Does everyone agree to this? It would seem that it may be a debate in the Rishonim. The Rashba in Chullin (94a) and the Rosh (Perek 18) hold that if the item is a matanah, a gift, there is no prohibition of geneivas da’as. Tosfos (Chullin 94b DHM “Amar”) and the Ritva (Chullin 94b “Rav Ashi”) hold that it does apply even regarding a free gift. How do we understand the distinction between the cases of the beraissa and the free gift according to those authorities who hold that it is not considered geneivas da’as? It would seem that since the deceiver is giving something to the person, it makes up a bit for the deception. Here, we do not have that distinction.
A fake vaccine card is clearly a violation of geneivas da’as according to normative halachah.
There is a fascinating Shaarei Teshuvah (3:181) that states that the leniency of “Mutar l’shanos mipnei ha’shalom—sometimes it is permitted to tell a white lie to maintain peace” does not apply to geneivas da’as. The concept of geneivas da’as is an important and essential value in Torah Judaism. Using false documentation to create wrong impressions is a serious halachic issue that should not be ignored or trampled upon.
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com. Read more of Rabbi Hoffman’s articles at 5TJT.com.