web analytics
October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
Blogs
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Privacy and Government Snooping in Jewish Law

There is standing prohibition in Jewish law against sharing anything revealed in private conversation.
Snooping

I don’t think it matters much what Jewish law would say about the government snooping on its citizens. The government is not subject to Jewish law and its citizens don’t expect the government to conform its policies to Jewish law. Yet, there seems to be value in such analysis as I have been asked this question by several people.

As is often the case, we have two competing interests at stake. Privacy on one hand and safety on the other. Both of these interests are recognized in Jewish law. But they are completely different planes.

Life is primary in Jewish law. All else comes after life. One is not permitted to kill. One is not permitted to commit suicide. One is not permitted to harm one self. One is not permitted to place one’s life in danger. One is obligated to violate Jewish law in order to save one’s own life (with three exceptions – murder, idolatry, and adultery). The sanctity of life is of the utmost importance in Jewish law. These particular laws are derived from primary sources in the Torah and Mishna.

There is also a prohibition against snooping on one’s neighbor in Jewish law. One is not permitted to place a window overlooking one’s neighbor’s private property. This sort of loss of privacy gives rise to a civil action in Jewish court. Some authorities extend right of privacy to include eavesdropping or even accidentally hearing others in private conversation.

Additionally, there is standing prohibition in Jewish law against sharing anything revealed in private conversation. Without specifically stating that a conversation is allowed to be shared, it is required to be kept in confidence.

Finally, much later on in Jewish legal history a ban was placed on reading the private communications of others. This decree originally applied to mail but many authorities now extend it to all forms of communication.

These considerations all apply today and would apply to governments as well.

However, none of these considerations overrides the sanctity of life. If just one life could be saved it seems that all these rules could be ignored. Certainly, it would be expected that the minimal intrusion to save the life would be made. Saving a life is not a license to do as one pleases. Further, use of the information gathered would be limited to the purpose of saving lives and nothing else.The interesting thing here is that one life is enough for all our privacy to be suspended. One life is all it takes.

It would seem that as long as lives are being saved, the government is not bound by the strict privacy laws or decrees. The question then becomes whether lives are actually being saved. I don’t know the answer to that question. But that is the issue. It is the only issue.If there is a threat of loss of life, the government or any private citizen would have the right and according to some authorities the obligation to spy on its citizens to protect others.

I think it is laudable that the government takes the lives of its citizens so seriously. Obviously there are concerns that the government will use the information obtained improperly. However, there can be no prohibition against the gathering of the information so long as lives are at stake.

Visit Fink or Swim.

About the Author: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at finkorswim.com. Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Privacy and Government Snooping in Jewish Law”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
The Jerusalem light rail train, crossing the Chords Bridge near the Central Bus Station.
Jerusalem Light Rail’s New ‘Zero Tolerance’ for Arab Violence
Latest Blogs Stories
NY rally against Met Opera's 'Death of Klinghoffer' opera. Sept. 22, 2014.

Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters: “‘Klinghoffer’ is justified as ‘a work of art’…This is an outrage.”

eg

Kids bring in the light and let out the darkness through breathing exercises; it changes people.

Mir

If I make a million dollars in 2 weeks, how can I observe something like this and sit by quietly?”

Arab children look at pictures of two of a kind - Arafat and Barghouti.

Sometimes collective action against the heinous acts of the majority is not enough. The world should not only support the blockade of Gaza; it must enforce the dismantling of Hamas.

How long will it take for Israel and the Jewish World to admit that we are in very serious danger?

How do changes in technology affect the human life and our interactions with each other?

Palestinians (and Jordanians) often use the term “provocation” regarding Israeli action in Jerusalem

The zealots who engineered the ban have been publicly disgraced.

I am sick and tired of this one way street boycott! Time to boycott all products developed or invented in the Palestinian controlled areas! Let’s start with……umm….

Such an incredible miracle to have Israel, it’s crazy that every Jew isn’t clamoring to live here!

Driving is cultural. I come from a place with incredibly polite and safe drivers, unlike Israel.

My difficulties persisted until I met a beggar outside a restaurant after Tisha B’Av 12 years ago.

I’m more worried about the dangers of the Palestine virus than the Ebola one.

“Nonsense” seems to be the New York Times sense of balanced and accurate coverage.

The Palestinian terrorists could undergo career reorientation and take to cod fishing.

It’s very bad news indeed that the idea of terrorist release is once again under discussion.

More Articles from Rabbi Eliyahu Fink
QuestionsandAnswers-logo

People act not because they think it’s right; they do what they do because it’s what they want to do

Dusk in the early morning hours seen from Mt Meron, Northern Israel. March 26, 2014.

What do we do when we want to be mad at God but we also want God to make it all better? Indeed, what do we do?

Rambam would also allow charity from a mumar as long as the person maintains basic belief in God and Judaism.

There is no song that tells the story of freedom like Shir HaShirim.

It is unfair to judge a 52 year old man with the glasses of a person who lives in a different world.

Adegbile was not making a moral statement by representing a man convicted of killing a cop.

Women learning Torah is becoming increasingly permissive, but women wearing tefillin is becoming increasingly stringent.

When the “offensive” statements in our Talmud were stated, no one thought they were offensive.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/fink-or-swim/privacy-and-government-snooping-in-jewish-law/2013/06/16/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: