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    Rights to privacy – Balak

    Holbein's Tribes of Israel, 16th century

    The legal right to privacy is a relatively recent development, but not in Judaism. For us it has been axiomatic from the day that Bilam sang, “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob!”

    What impressed him so much about our tents?

    Ancient sources record that from one Israelite tent you could not see into the tent of your neighbour. What your neighbour was doing was his business, not yours.

    Judaism insists on protecting the privacy of other people, their homes, secrets, documents and even their past.

    One of the dangers to this great ethical principle is presented by the intrusive nature of media activity. Many blamed the death of Princess Diana on photographers who would not leave her alone. Whatever share of the blame is theirs, the fact is that there have to be controls. Society has to set its standards. Not just for the media, but for the public as well.

    We could all act a little more like the Israelites in the desert and refuse to enjoy and be titillated by irrelevant “revelations” about others’ private affairs. We would be doing them and ourselves a favour.

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