Guarding Our Rights

Question

Hi Rabbi, what does Judaism teach about what people are doing nowadays by going around with cameras and filming in police stations, city halls, post offices and other public places? They call themselves “first amendment auditors,” claiming to be protecting the peoples’ rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. But a lot of people, including me, don’t like being filmed by someone I don’t know. And especially if my picture would be published without permission! Don’t I have a right to privacy? Thanks!

, , 8 months

Answers

  1. You pose a very important question that really deserves a thorough discussion of many complex issues. Especially rights, freedoms and keeping the law of the land. But without doing a rigorous treatment of these and other relevant issues, I’d like to share with you one thought on this topic that I hope you find helpful.

    A number of years ago when there was a special campaign by the Israeli government to reduce the number of motor vehicle accidents, injuries and deaths, there was a special slogan: “Don’t be right, be smart.” Even if a driver has the right of way, he should yield to an aggressive driver who tries to cut in or do something else that he shouldn’t be doing on the road. A smart driver will just let it be (and perhaps put on some relaxing music) and will probably statistically be involved in fewer accidents and avoid tragedy.

    There’s a fascinating mitzvah in the Torah: “You shall be holy for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” (Lev. 19:2) What does it mean to be holy?

    Nachmanides (b. Spain, d. Israel, 1194-1270) explains this mitzvah to mean that one not be a crass glutton with the “permission” of the Torah. What does this mean? The Torah permits a person to eat kosher meat and to drink kosher wine. Therefore, theoretically, a person could spend all of his days and nights indulging himself in the eating of tons of meat and the drinking of barrels of wine, acting as a wild animal. And he may say, “I haven’t done anything wrong. The meat I ate and the wine I drank were totally kosher!” To prevent a person from living a “permissible” life like a gluttonous animal, God commands us “you shall be holy for I am holy.”

    I think that this philosophy of carefully considering the consequences of one’s actions — and choosing what is smart even if it means not doing every single thing that is permitted — will lead to a happier and healthier lifestyle for the individual and the community.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team