middot responsibility daily living freedom of information?

freedom of information?

Written by  rebbetzin malkah


An encrypted cache of uncensored documents that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has circulated across the Internet may ensure that a huge array of secrets will be revealed even if the website is shut down or Assange is arrested.  — online news 12/4/2010


It's been everywhere.  No matter what news source you are listening to, you can't avoid it.  WikiLeaks leaks into your news, into your car, into your conversations.  But as I listened to various news pieces all week, inundating me with more WikiLeaks document/cable revelations than I ever bargained for, the one question I had was this:  what was Torah's response?  And where does the middah of silence kick in?

There has been a great push for many years to have more freedom of information.  While this can be a good thing, to give the means to agencies who need to communicate better, I also think that some information is just better left, well, secret.

He that goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; but he that is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.            --Proverbs 11:13

In an age where we can just plaster our life events on Facebook, tweet, or blog to our heart's content about anything we like, I feel sometimes that we need to return to a more moral privacy.  There are things that not only we don't need to know about, but shouldn't.

as Torah sees it

But when does Torah mandate that we should not participate in freedom of information?  Clearly when information (such as speech, news stories, letters, emails, and documents) will reflect poorly on a person and cause damage to one's reputation —even if it is true.  When I was using my Torah filter to process this story, I kept asking myself from a Torah perspective:  how is this swath of information benefiting anyone?  And as I listened, horrified, going from the on button to the off button of my car radio, I realized this:  I know that we didn't need to know much of this information.  Not only has it put some people at risk, but most of the accounts of diplomats regarding certain public figures were just plain embarrassing.

You shall not go up and down as a talebearer among your people…. --Leviticus 19:16

As Torah stands, whether or not the information is true is irrelevant.  Bearing tales or speaking unkindly of people is forbidden for good reason.  How do you think some of those world public figures felt when they heard some of the things that pertained particularly to them in the leaks?  Surely some of them were not filled with glee.  While some brushed it off, others were probably feeling not only embarrassed, but betrayed by the very diplomats in whom they thought they could confide.  As I have been listening to the various sides of this story, my Torah filter was telling me this was not only wrong, but absolutely careless; these leaks have blatantly disregarded various parties' feelings and reputations, and could lead to discord among nations. 

Even if we have accurate information, it doesn't mean we have a carte blanche to go and proclaim it publicly.  We are obligated, as a Torah-bound people, to honor our neighbor, not spread evil speech (even if it is true), and to give the benefit of the doubt.  How many of us gave the benefit of the doubt when we heard certain morsels of this information?  How many of us disregarded it as shmutz?  How many of us asked why it was truly necessary to know all these details?  The whole issue also of whether or not they were obtained legally doesn't even enter into the conversation – it was all illegal according to Torah.

In an age where is seems like in cyberspace everything goes, who will stand up for truth and silence?  There are times when things should be said to protect those around us, and times when there should be silence.  Where does freedom begin and where does it end?  I say look at the Torah and remember this: words not only were the mechanism of creation, but they can be an agent of destruction.  Choose your words wisely, choose them for life.

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