For the week ending 26 July 2003 / 26 Tammuz 5763

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by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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Question: I work in a large office with numerous staff members. I am in charge of downloading e-mail messages and putting them in the appropriate trays. When the name of the addressee appears clearly at the top there is no problem. But often the only way to find out whom they are for is by scanning the message. I have no wish to read other peoples mail, but I must get the mail delivered. What is the right thing to do?

Answer: The cherem (ban) instituted by Rabbeinu Gershom a millennium ago against reading anothers mail was intended to protect the privacy of the people sending and receiving letters. In situations where it is obvious that they have no interest in protecting this privacy this ban can hardly apply. It is for this reason that a case has already been made for exempting postcards from this ban because the very nature of their exposed contents indicates that the writer had nothing to hide from the eyes of others.

Although it is clear from the above that you have no reason for concern about reading the e-mail messages that come to your office in order to determine whom they are for, there is one caution that must be exercised. There is a natural curiosity about what is doing in other peoples affairs, which must be controlled even when you are not in outright violation of any ban. When one becomes too "nosey" in a legitimate situation it can become habit-forming.

In conclusion, it is a fair assumption that none of your bosses has any interest in downloading e-mail messages by themselves, and will be very pleased to have you read as much as you need in order to know if the e-mail is for them.

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