While I was asleep, a friend of mine had the nerve to look at all the texts on my phone. Now, that friend is confronting me about some of what he read, stuff that he would not even know if he had not invaded my privacy by looking at the text messages. I am quite upset and don’t feel I owe him any explanation about what is, frankly, none of his business.Please advise me of your wise opinion on this matter.Please respond as soon as possible!
∼ Leah S.
Our tagline is ‘ancient wisdom for modern problems,’ so we’d like to give you an answer that dates back about 1,000 years. At that time, a leader of the generation in Germany, Rabbi Gershom (960-1040), decreed that reading other people’s mail was illegal.
How can this be? Are we to understand that up until his time people routinely read one another’s mail? Considering that ancient Jewish wisdom on Numbers 24:5 explains that the enemy, Balaam praised the Jewish people for taking care to respect each other’s privacy while in the desert, was prohibiting the reading of other people’s mail truly a necessary step forward?
The answer is that this was not an advanced, breakthrough ruling. Rather, it was an acknowledgment that the Jews in Germany were losing a sensitivity that their ancestors had possessed. Having to put such an idea into law meant that what was always understood as proper behavior was being ignored.
Privacy in our day has almost disappeared. Even the most circumspect of us, willingly or not, share personal details with the government, retailers and random strangers. Many people choose to broadcast the most awful parts of their lives in popular entertainment and public forums.
Your friend was entirely in the wrong. The question is not whether you owe him an explanation, it is whether your friendship can survive. He cannot forget what he saw although he was wrong to look. You may need to recognize that by talking about certain things on What’sApp or by text, you also did not assign proper respect and confidentiality to your own life. Either of these facts may destroy the relationship. Both together probably will at the very least change your relationship.
If you both want it to survive, you will need to have a frank discussion of what values you see as belonging in a friendship. You may also want to read some of our previous Ask the Rabbi questions on friendships between men and women.
Wishing you privacy,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin