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Jewish Values and Privacy

Judaism teaches us that privacy is a fundamental aspect of the human condition, the protection of which is a serious societal and individual responsibility. Our tradition distinguishes privacy as an essential element of personality, rather than as only a right of property, and considers privacy an aspect of one's sanctity as a child of God. Without this protection, one is stripped of individuality and selfhood and is effectively dehumanized. In commenting on the story of Balaam's refusal to curse the children of Israel, the Talmud tells us that "he saw that the entrances to their tents were not directly opposite each other, so that one family did not visually intrude on the privacy of the other" (B. Talmud,Baba Batra60a). Moreover, Deuteronomy (24:10-11) teaches that: "When you lend your neighbor any manner of loan, you shall not go into his house to fetch your pledge. You shall stand outside, and the person to whom you made the loan shall bring the pledge to you." Eavesdropping, gossip, and slander are strongly condemned in Jewish teaching, and unauthorized disclosure of information was strictly prohibited. In the Talmud, Rabbi Ami expelled a scholar from the academy because he disclosed a report he had received confidentially twenty-two years earlier. By the eleventh century, the privacy of mail was absolutely safeguarded by Rabbenu Gershom.