Off the Pulpit

An Ancient Right To Privacy

In an internet age, there is a great deal of discussion about the right to privacy. 
The Torah already contains a provision for privacy – a creditor may not enter a debtor’s home even to fetch what is due to him (Deut. 24:10-11). The prohibition on entering another’s home unannounced is then embraced by the Rabbis of the Talmud as a general principle. R. Shimon lists entering a house – even one’s own – unannounced is one of four things that God detests and people do not like either! And not to enter a house unannounced is one of seven pieces of advice Rabbi Akiva is said to have left to his son.
There are halachic (Jewish legal) prohibitions against building in such a way that you can peer into the windows of your neighbor’s home. Not only must others respect our privacy, but Judaism expects that we will guard it ourselves. The pagan sorcerer Bilaam praises the tents of Jacob because, the Rabbis explain, tent openings faced away from one another so that each had privacy. Social media reaches into our homes. We have a right to know what, or who, is coming in, and a right to turn away.