Ethics

For the week ending 4 August 2012 / 15 Av 5772

The Perimeters of Privacy

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: I am well aware that everyone is entitled to his privacy and that it is therefore improper to look into anothers private quarters. But does this respect for privacy also extend to other areas that I am not aware of?

Answer: In his very popular book Tuvchu Yabiyu (Volume Two) Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, the rav of the Ramat Elchanan community in Bnei Brak, suggests a number of areas in which one should be careful to avoid invading anothers privacy:

  1. Looking at someones Identity Card (or passport) to discover his age.
  2. Looking at his Sick Fund Booklet (or other health document) to discover the illnesses he suffers from.
  3. Removing from the Western Wall a prayer note one has placed in it.

(The author of this column and others in Ohrnet often rely on Rabbi Zilbersteins rulings and stories contained in his Tuvcha Yabiyu and Aleinu Shebayach volumes. I recently spoke at a public forum in Jerusalem immediately after Rabbi Zilberstein and planned to use in my talk a wonderful story I had read in one of his books. I suspected, however, that he might have used it himself so I carefully introduced the story as something I had read in the previous speakers book. The whispers which followed my opening words of the story confirmed my apprehension. Although I lost an opportunity to use a story which I have shared with many audiences, I was pleased to see that my choice of stories coincided with that of this great man.)

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