A Virtuous Public Life Could Help Protect against Technology’s Erosion of Privacy

Aug. 16 2019

In the book of Numbers, the Gentile prophet Balaam delivers an extended, divinely inspired blessing to the people of Israel, which includes the verse, “How fair are your tents, O Jacob; your encampments, O Israel!” Drawing on traditional rabbinic interpretations of this verse, Ari Berman sees in it lessons for the current moment, where modern technology and a culture of exhibitionism have led to serious ethical concerns about privacy:

The rabbis of antiquity [understood the words “How fair are your tents” to refer to] the manner in which the Israelites had arranged their tents; namely, the tent openings did not face one another, thus preventing peering eyes from seeing into a neighbor’s home. In Jewish law, in fact, privacy is not simply a matter of personal preference. It is rather a formal legal category, such that peering into another’s private space is considered a form of injury. . . .

But at the same time, consider the verse’s second clause, in which Balaam praises the Israelites’ encampments. . . . The classical Jewish commentators . . . taught that whereas the word “tents” refers to the Israelites’ private dwellings, “encampments” refers to public spaces dedicated to collective, communal endeavors. Balaam offered praise for these places as well, for there are enormous advantages to cultivating an integrated, active public square. . . .

Taken as a whole, then, the rabbinic interpretation of Balaam’s ancient words highlights the importance of . . . cultivating both a virtuous private life and a virtuous public life. This is a crucial message as we think about educating the next generation.

Welcome to Mosaic

Register now to get two more stories free

Register Now

Already a subscriber? Sign in now

Read more at Forbes

More about: Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Social media, Technology


What to Expect from the Israeli Election

Sept. 16 2019

Tomorrow Israelis go to the polls for the second election of 2019, in which the two main contenders will be the Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, and the centrist Blue and White, led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. Neither party is likely to have an easy path to forming the 61-seat Knesset majority needed to form a government, a reality that has affected both parties’ campaigns. Haviv Rettig Gur explains how the anomalous political situation has led to something very different from the contest between left-wing and right-wing “blocs” of parties predicted by most analysts, and examines the various possible outcomes:

Sign up to read more

You've read all your free articles for this month


Sign up now for unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Avigdor Liberman, Benjamin Netanyahu, Benny Gantz, Israeli Election 2019, Israeli politics