Gneivas Daas and “Political Spin”

Geneivas Da’as in Hebrew involves the theft of one’s mind, thoughts, wisdom, or knowledge (Choshen Mishpat, 228: 6). By causing someone to have a mistaken assumption, or impression it includes fooling someone In other words, it is akin to deception, cheating, creating a false impression, and/or acquiring goodwill through false impressions/words and the like. It goes beyond blatant lying; which is a separate sin.

A clever choice of words or actions that cause others to form incorrect conclusions may be considered a violation of this Issur. The Torah does not allow us to reduce the ability of another person, (Jew or Non-Jew), to make a fair and honest evaluation. This crosses business, interpersonal relations, or other areas where one may be deceived.

It is common place in our politically correct world, as well as in competitive environments where people want to minimise damage to reputation to carefully craft statements describing a situation that has occurred. Details and purposeful ambiguity are employed. In particular, when it is known that there has been a wilful use of such “spin” to deflect from what actually transpired, I think that this forms Gneivas Da’as.

The Tosefta in Baba Kama (7:3) considers the worst type of theft is the one that “steals the minds” of people.  The Tosefta, Baba Metzia 3: 15, quoted by the Magen Avraham states that a storekeeper is not permitted to sprinkle their store with wine or oil because they “steals the minds” of people given that it may fool customers into believing that all the wine sold in the store is of the same high quality. This doesn’t involve a financial loss, so financial loss is not a necessary condition.

Of course, there is a situation where one is fooling themselves and actually believes they are correct and don’t intentionally set out to “spin” or deceive. In such a case Chullin 94b we don’t apply Gneivas Da’as.

I have seen some statements of late which in my opinion are simply Gneivas Da’as Kipshuto bordering on blatant lying. As it is Elul, I won’t take the opportunity to use one example and show explicitly how false and misleading it is to the extent that it steals the minds of those who are not in the know.

Many frum organisations now have public affairs employees, and some of their staff are adept at producing spin. The purpose of this post is to alert people that they should actually ask a Rav whether they may be transgressing Gneivas Da’as. It is not always the case that the sole expert in a matter is the professional wordsmith.