A Plagiarism Plague

Question

When speaking or writing I often rely on an idea or a statement I heard or read. How important is it for me to cite the source?

3 weeks

Answers

  1. Plagiarism is vigorously condemned by our Sages. It is an ethical failing if not a legal violation. They teach that a verse in the Book of Proverbs (22:22) alludes to the issue of plagiarism, viewing it as a type of theft — stealing words from another person. The verse states, “Do not rob the poor because he is poor”, and is a warning against stealing the credit from the originator of the words. Taking his words for profit may very possibly be an act of depriving a poor person from earning much needed funds as the victim of plagiarism.

    In his commentary on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 156, the great halachic authority Magen Avraham rules on this basis that one who fails to give credit to a source is guilty of a transgression of Jewish Law.

    There is a positive angle as well for a person to mention the source of what he writes or quotes. “One who says something in the name of another,” teach our Sages, “brings miraculous redemption to the world” (Ethics of Our Fathers 6:6). The historic example is Queen Esther informing her husband, the Persian King Achashveirosh, of the assassination plot against him, and mentioning that Mordechai was the source of her information. This resulted in the miraculous redemption of the Jewish People from the genocidal plot of Haman.

    To practice what I preach I will now quote what I once heard in the name of the great ethicist of the previous generation, Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian of blessed memory. He explained why citing the source is a catalyst for miraculous redemption. God deals with us in the manner in which we deal with others. It is human nature to take credit for some important information and deny it to the source. One who is capable of breaking his own nature by citing the source becomes worthy of the Creator breaking the rules of nature that He has created and performing a miracle.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team