Ask The Rabbi

Ask the Rabbi #67

Become a Supporter Library Library

Ask the Rabbi

10 June 1995; Issue #67

  • Thou Shalt Not Read Thy Neighbors' E-Mail?
  • Answer to Yiddle Riddle
  • Subscription Information
  • Ohr Somayach Home Page

  • Thou Shalt Not Read Thy Neighbors' E-Mail?


    Michael from Pittsburgh wrote:

    Dear Rabbi,

    Does the "Cherem d'Rabbeinu Gershom" ["social excommunication"ed.] against reading someone's mail also apply to E-Mail? At work we all share one E-Mail account, and sometimes I find it difficult to overcome my curiosity.

    Dear Michael,

    Rabbeinu Gershom (960-1040 C.E.), "The Light of the Exile," was one of the earliest and greatest scholars of Ashkenazic Jewry, and led the most prestigious center of Talmudic learning of the day. In his times, there arose a need to institute a number of new measures, called "takanot." These included the banning of polygamy and the requirement of mutual consent in divorce.

    Amongst his most well known enactments is the one you mentioned - the prohibition against reading people's mail. In those times, Jewish traders in different countries communicated in writing. Often their letters contained sensitive business information which could be very harmful if read by an outsider. As a safeguard against this, Rabbeinu Gershom legislated against reading people's mail.

    What about E-Mail? Is reading E-Mail on a computer screen included in the "Cherem of Rabbeinu Gershom"? I posed this question to Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita, and he made no distinction between regular mail and E-Mail.

    You wrote, however, that you share a joint account. Here, the question can be asked, "Is an E-Mail message in a joint account like a post card?" Concerning post cards there is a doubt whether or not Rabbeinu Gershom's decree applies, since the sender seems unconcerned if others read it.

    On the other hand, perhaps the sender trusts that no one will push the button and "open" the message - just as when you send a letter you expect that no one will open and read it.

    I asked Rabbi Scheinberg about this as well. Here, too, he made no distinction between a joint account and a private account. People expect that no one read their messages, and it should not be done.

    I hope this knowledge helps you overcome your curiosity. If not, let me remind you of the positive commandment of "v'ahavta l'reacha ka'mocha" - "Love your fellow person as yourself." Our Sages explain this as follows: One must not do to somebody else what he wouldn't want the other person to do to him. Would you like someone else to read your personal E-mail?


    • Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 334:22.
    • Aruch HaShulchan 334:20.
    • Herald of Destiny, by Berel Wein, Shaar Press.
    • Leviticus 19:18, Shabbat 31a, Maharsha.

    Answer to Yiddle Riddle:


    Question : Aside from Chanukah and Chol HaMoed, when is the Torah read 5 days in a row?

    Answer: When the first day of Rosh Hashanah occurs on Thursday. The Torah is read the first and second day of Rosh Hashanah, and then on Shabbos. Sunday is "The Fast of Gedaliah," followed by the regular Torah reading on Monday!

    (Q&A courtesy of Joel Intract)

    • Written by Rabbi Moshe Lazerus, Rabbi Benzion Bamberger, Rabbi Reuven Subar, Rabbi Avrohom Lefkowitz and other Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions / Tanenbaum College, Jerusalem, Israel.
    • General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
    • Production Design: Lev Seltzer
    • HTMIL Design: Michael Treblow

    © 1995 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved. This publication may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue newsletters. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission, and then send us a sample issue.

    This publication is available via E-Mail
    Ohr Somayach Institutions is an international network of Yeshivot and outreach centers, with branches in North America, Europe, South Africa and South America. The Central Campus in Jerusalem provides a full range of educational services for over 685 full-time students. The Jewish Learning Exchange (JLE) of Ohr Somayach offers summer and winter programs in Israel that attract hundreds of university students from around the world for 3 to 8 weeks of study and touring.
    Copyright © 1995 Ohr Somayach International. Send us Feedback.
    Dedication opportunities are available for Ask The Rabbi. Please contact us for details.
    Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.