The Right to Privacy in Judaism

Judaism values privacy, but it's unclear how much.

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"How do we know that when a person tells something to his friend, the latter may not repeat it until the person says to him 'go and say'? As it is written (Leviticus 1:1): 'And God spoke to [Moses] from the Tent of Meeting to say?'"

This source--codified by Rabbi Moses of Coucy (France, ca. 1236, Semag, Negative Commandments, No. 9) and by Rabbi Abraham Gumbiner (Poland, 1637-1683, Magen Avraham to Orah Hayyim 156, middle of subparagraph 2)--indicates that one may not reveal a confidence without the express permission of the confider.

Thus, it is clear that Jewish law and tradition prohibit a business from revealing its clients' particulars to other companies without the express permission of the person in question, both because of its general approach to privacy and because of the specific prohibition against disclosing secrets.

There is no question that it will be difficult to change society's attitude towards privacy and confidentiality. But through our opposition to the so-called trivial practices described in the question, we can begin to arouse public consciousness to the problem and to slowly restore to all individuals the privacy and confidentiality which they deserve according to Jewish tradition.

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Rabbi David Golinkin

Rabbi David Golinkin, Ph.D., is president and rector of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, where he teaches Talmud and Jewish law, and he heads the Va'ad Halakhah (committee on Jewish law) of the Masorti, or Conservative, movement's Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.