[Avodah] Privacy in Halakhah

Micha Berger micha at aishdas.org
Wed Feb 6 08:28:30 PST 2019

Aviad haKohein and Gavi Siboni wrote an article in last December's
issue of Cyber, Intelligence, and Security titled "Ubiquitous Presence:
Protecting Privacy and Forbidding Intrusion into a Persons Records in
Jewish Law".

Mosaic Magazine's snippet
    The ban on infringing upon a person's privacy is specifically mentioned
    in Jewish law in many contexts.... For example, the Mishnah states, "A
    person must not create an opening [in his own house] opposite an opening
    [in his neighbor's], or a window opposite a window. If his opening or
    window is small, he must not make it larger. If there is one opening, he
    must not turn it into two openings."... In his commentary on the Talmud,
    Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir explains that the ban on creating a new opening
    opposite the opening to his neighbor's yard (or even a yard shared by
    both of them) is designed to prevent damage caused by looking into another
    person's property; that is, infringement on another person's privacy.

    [The contemporary scholar] Eliyahu Lifshitz explains that the Mishnah
    shows that damage to privacy caused by opening a window opposite a
    shared yard is relative and not absolute damage. For this reason, there
    is no requirement to conceal an existing window, even a large one; it is
    merely forbidden to create a new window or enlarge an existing one. If
    the window existed even before the neighbors moved in, they cannot force
    the window-owner to change his situation; rather, they must take their
    own measures to prevent the infringement of their privacy....

    Jewish law took a more significant step in protecting a person's privacy
    regarding personal documents--such as medical records, letters, and,
    nowadays, material stored on a personal computer--based on a ruling by
    Rabbi Gershom ben Judah, the greatest Jewish sage in Germany in the 10th
    century. Among other things, he enacted a ban against any person who
    reads someone else's letters without permission, since doing so invades
    the letter-writer's privacy....

    The general prohibition against infringing upon privacy as well as
    the specific prohibition against accessing another's records without
    that person's explicit consent are therefore deeply rooted in Jewish
    law. Accelerated technological development, the weaknesses of cyberspace,
    and difficulties in security pose new and exciting challenges to Jewish
    law concerning the application of ancient principles to our times--pouring
    the fine old wine of Jewish law into the new container of the legal
    system in Israel, whose values are both Jewish and democratic.

RGS posted a link to the Mosaic piece on Torah Musings' Daily Reyd with
the comment:
    "Deeply rooted"? I'm not convinced -- Finding a Right to Privacy
    in Halakhah

This topic was recently discussed by R Yonatan Ziring in his shiur
series for Gush's VBM Halakha in the Age of Social Media:
    #13: Confidentiality in the Age of Social Media Part 1
	What does privacy mean in the modern online world? Is revealing
	secrets a biblical violation, a rabbinic ban or simply bad

    #14 Confidentiality in the Age of Social Media 2: Public Information

    #15: Confidentiality in the Age of Social Media 3: Public Information --

I can think of two meqoros for the concept of privacy:

1- Hezeq re'iyah -- I'm allowed to protect existing privacy in my yard or
   who can see in my windows.
2- Lishna Bisha -- according to the Rambam, the Aramaic translation
   of lashon hara means the same as the idiom LH. But most describe it
   as a right for private information to remain private. (See RJZ's

Tir'u baTov!

Micha Berger             The meaning of life is to find your gift.
micha at aishdas.org        The purpose of life
http://www.aishdas.org   is to give it away.
Fax: (270) 514-1507                     - Pablo Picasso

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