I’m trying to open a certain computer account and it’s asking for my age. Is there anything wrong with lying to a computer?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
We should be honest at virtually all times. This is not only limited to financial matters – lying in a contract, misrepresenting the quality of merchandise, etc. – which are all forms of fraud and of stealing. It equally applies to all areas of speech and personal interaction. The Sages state that God’s “seal” is truth (Talmud Shabbat 55a), and we must emulate His ways.
There are a few exceptions to this principle – where one may lie regarding non-financial issues for the sake of peace or modesty.
The Talmud (Ketuvot 16b-17a) records that the School of Hillel said that at a wedding we dance before the bride singing “a lovely and gracious bride” – even if quite clearly the bride is not exactly ravishing. When the School of Shammai complained about the dishonesty, the School of Hillel responded, “If someone made a bad purchase in the market, would you praise it before him or disparage it?”
In other words, there are times when nothing is gained from speaking the brutal truth. Lying in order to foster harmony and peace among people is quite often far better than honesty. This would equally apply in many other cases of interpersonal relationships, such as if your wife asks you how you like the soup or her new dress, or if someone asks you what another said about him behind his back. (Answer “I don’t know” rather than “You’d rather I not tell you.”) 😉
The Talmud (Baba Metziah 23-24) offers a number of examples in which telling a white lie is similarly permissible. One case is to avoid causing undue harm to another. If you were a guest at someone’s house, and others ask you how it was, you are allowed to downplay your host’s hospitality so that unscrupulous people will not take advantage of him.
The Talmud there also permits lying for the sake of modesty – such as a Torah scholar not admitting the extent of his wisdom (how many tractates he has mastered) or not sharing intimate information with a nosy questioner.
In all such cases, it is always better to answer vaguely than to openly lie.
Even with all the above said, we should avoid getting into the habit of lying – even if we feel it’s always for a good cause and to restore harmony. It’s too easy to convince ourselves we have sincere motives. Rather, such justifications should be reserved for the most extreme situations, and not applied on a regular basis (see Talmud Yevamot 63a).
Your case of falsifying information to create an online account is even more serious. It’s not a matter of lying to a computer, but to the owners of the site you want to join. They have the right to set preconditions for joining their site, and we must abide by them.
See this past article for a more detailed discussion.