By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
The story was broken by Avital Chizhik Goldschmidt of the Forward, but first appeared on a Facebook group called “FrumGirlProblems.” A shidduch-oriented social media network advertises itself as having over 3,000 quality shidduch résumés, but has obtained these résumés without the permission of the singles involved. The résumés are posted on the Internet.
The article quotes a single woman named Serena who received an email from the entity announcing that her personal information had been added to a website she had never heard of. She was shocked. “I click the link, and I see a profile with my name, my picture, my age, my phone number, and my email. Some of the information was wrong, some of it was outdated. But it was all this personal information that I did not know how these people got. I did not give it to them and never heard of [them] before.”
Serena was not the only woman identified in the Forward article whose personal information had been compromised.
To be fair, some have asserted that the organization is legitimate and just wants to help singles. They say it is lashon ha’ra to speak against the operators of the site. Nonetheless, the website is still up and if there is a halachic problem involved, it should be taken down immediately.
To register for the service, one must pay either a $50 or $100 annual fee and accept a set of rules not readily available. The Forward article claims there may be a din Torah in the works (at Beth Din of America) and that many people are upset about the fact that they had never agreed to share their résumés with the group that has posted online.
If these allegations are true, the question arises as to what the halachah is here. Is this a violation of the Cherem d’Rabbeinu Gershom not to read someone else’s mail without their permission? Does it apply only to written letters or is an email also included? Does it apply to a shidduch résumé?
Cherem d’Rabbeinu Gershom is found in the responsum of the Maharam MiRottenberg Vol. IV #1022. It is further cited in the responsum of the Maharam Mintz (Siman 102), the Kol Bo (Siman 116), and the Be’er HaGolah at the end of chapter 334 of the Yoreh De’ah section of Shulchan Aruch. For more contemporary poskim who deal with the Cherem d’Rabbeinu Gershom, see Dayan Weiss, zt’l, in his Minchas Yitzchak (Vol. IX #96) and, lbc’l, Rav Moshe Shternbuch, shlita, in his Teshuvos v’Hanhagos (Vol. III #386).
But what are the parameters of the cherem? On what basis was it made? Is there a Torah prohibition involved? The Maharam Ben Chaviv (1654–1696) in his responsum (Kol Gadol, Siman 102) delineates the basis for Rabbeinu Gershom’s enactment. He writes that Rabbeinu Gershom’s reason was a geder, a protective measure, “shelo yeida sodos chaveiro” — so that he not know the secrets of another person. It is still somewhat unclear, however, as to the prohibition involved in knowing the secrets of his friend. In this author’s view, it may be an abnegation of the Torah principle of “V’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha.”
The Mahari Chagiz (1620–1674) in his Halachos Ketanos (Vol. I #276) explains that it is a violation of “lo seilech rachil b’amecha,” do not be a gossiper among the Jewish nation.
Rav Chaim Palaji (1788–1868) in his Chokekei Lev (Vol. I #49) cites the aforementioned reasons and adds three more. He adds geneivas da’as, deceiving others; sho’el shelo mi’da’as, borrowing without permission; and the third, a violation of the Gemara in Yuma 4b that one cannot reveal information unless specifically given permission to do so.
The prohibition known as geneivas da’as means fooling or deceiving others. Here, it would mean that the person had thought only the original shadchan would see the résumé and now the whole internet is seeing it. The Gemara in Chullin (94a) cites Shmuel as saying that the prohibition applies to everyone. The examples there show that geneivas da’as is violated even if there is no financial deception.
In regard to the verse of “midvar sheker tirchak,” stay away from a false matter, there is a three-way debate as to how we understand this pasuk. The Chofetz Chaim rules in his Ahavas Chesed that it is an out-and-out prohibition to lie. This is in accordance with the view of some Rishonim. Other Rishonim hold that the verse is merely good advice, but not halachah. A third opinion holds that it is applicable to judges adjudicating law. Generally speaking, the view of the Chofetz Chaim is normative halachah.
The prohibition of deceiving, however, is a clear prohibition according to all opinions. According to the Sefer Yereim and the Ritva, it is a biblical prohibition. According to the SMaK, the prohibition is d’rabbanan. But all hold that it is a full-blown prohibition.
Sho’el Shelo Mi’da’as
Rav Palaji says borrowing without permission, makes someone into a thief, on the view of Rav Chaim Shabtai (1550–1647), also known as the Maharchash, in his Toras Chaim (Vol. II #47). Essentially, every person is the owner of his own information, and someone who misuses it is a thief.
The violation is actually stealing. The Talmud (Bava Basra 88a) records a debate between Rabbi Yehudah and the chachamim (sages) as to whether borrowing an item without permission renders a person a gazlan, a thief, or whether he simply has the status of a borrower.
Rabbi Yehudah maintains that he does not have the halachic status of a thief, while the sages maintain that he does. The Rif and the Rambam both rule in accordance with the sages that he is considered a thief. Indeed, this is also the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch in at least four different places (C.M. 292:1; 308:7; 359:5; 363:5).
Does this apply in all cases? There seems to be no inherent value in reading someone’s résumé. While this may be the case, the Chazon Ish (B.K. 20:5) writes that the prohibition of sho’el shelo mida’as, borrowing without permission, applies even when the item is not something that generally has a market value, and even if the value is less than that of a prutah.
But what about if the owner would have approved of it? Don’t single people want to get married? Can’t we assume that the single people would have wanted their shidduch profile in there? To this there are two responses. First, from the Forward article, it seems that most people are not happy that their shidduch résumé has been exposed so publicly.
Yi’ush Shelo Mida’as
Second, the Gemara our sixth-grade sons study may be instructive here. Let’s go back to that famous debate between Abaye and Rava. If a person would have given up hope on a lost item, but didn’t know yet that he lost it to have given up hope, did he give up hope? Abaye says that he didn’t. Rava says that he did. This is one of only six instances where we rule like Abaye against Rava.
So, in our case, where the résumé owner didn’t know about it yet, but would possibly have given permission, it doesn’t matter. We rule like Abaye. Indeed, this is the position of the Tosfos (B.M. 22a “Mar Zutrah”). Even though the Shach (C.M. 358:1) writes that, if it were possible to say, he disagrees with the Tosfos, the overwhelming conclusion of halachic authorities is to remain with the ruling of the Tosfos. This is the conclusion of the Ketzos HaChoshen (358:1 and 262:1) as well as the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (182:13).
The Gemara in Yuma cites in the name of Rabbi Masya the Great: From where is it derived that one who tells another some matter, that it is incumbent upon the latter not to say it to others until the former explicitly says to him: Go and tell others? It is from that which is stated: “And the L-rd spoke to him from within the Tent of Meeting, saying [leimor].” ‘Leimor’ is a contraction of “lo emor,” meaning, do not say. One must be given permission before transmitting information.
This Gemara is cited by the Magen Avraham (O.C. 156:2) as halachah. It is also cited by the Hagaos Maimonius (Hilchos Dei’os 6:8), and the Sefer Mitzvos Gedolos (Lavin 9). Seemingly, it is a halachah.
Interestingly, the Chofetz Chaim in Sefer Chofetz Chaim (Klal 2 B.M. Ch. 27) writes that the Gemara in Yuma is a middah tovah b’alma, merely a good character trait. It is this author’s opinion that the Chofetz Chaim is arguing with the aforementioned Chofetz Chaim (but each person should check with his own posek or rav on this matter).
It would seem that there are at least four and possibly five violations involved in commandeering other people’s résumés without their permission and exposing the information to an online community. If that’s what was done here, in this author’s opinion the owners of the website should immediately place the website on hold until they get permission from the résumé owners. Until then they may be in violation of some very serious prohibitions.
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.