For the week ending 17 September 2005 / 13 Elul 5765

Reading Behind the Back

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Become a Supporter Library Library

Question: I sometimes find myself, while riding in a bus or train, sitting behind someone reading a newspaper. On the page facing me there is an interesting column which catches my attention and I am overcome with a curiosity which compels me to read it over the shoulder of the unsuspecting owner. But just as I approach the most interesting part the owner decides to turn to another page unknowingly leaving me high and dry. What is the right thing to do?

Answer: You certainly realize that the newspaper owner has no obligation to let you continue your reading even if he is aware of your situation. All you can do is request an opportunity to briefly see his newspaper. There is, however, a delicate issue of diplomacy in how to make such a request.

Should you inform him that you had been reading his paper behind his back and wish to finish reading that article, you may invite an angry reaction, justified or not, about your invading his privacy by peeking at his newspaper. Your best bet is not to mention your reading of the paper but to simply ask the owner if he would be kind enough to let you have the newspaper when he is finished or at least a part of it right away.

Simply withholding an admission of your reading behind his back cannot be considered deception on your part. But the other fellow's withholding his newspaper from you at no cost to him is considered to be a characteristic of the wicked city of Sodom whose selfish inhabitants refused to share their prosperity with others even though they would virtually be unaffected by such generosity.

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