The admonition against ‘sheker’ that appears in the midst of Mishpatim is strangely phrased: ‘distance yourself from words of sheker’ (Ex. 23:7), rather than ‘do not utter sheker’.
Why? And what exactly is ‘sheker’? It is usually translated as lies, but the context of its positioning and the extent to which ‘sheker’ must be avoided sends out a mixed message. Does this verse only refer to dayanim (rabbinic judges), or does it include everyone? Is it a prohibition, or just a piece of sage advice? Are there occasions when lying is permitted, and if so, what would be the determining factors?
The sources are numerous and fascinating. Rabbi Dunner traverses Talmud, Midrash, and halachic sources, and also looks at the revealing confession of an eighteenth century Torah giant as recorded by him in the introduction to his published work.