Crime and Punishment in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa

By Walter Jacob; Moshe Zemer | Go to book overview

Confidential Information

Contemporary American Reform Responsa ( New York), ♯5

Walter Jacob

QUESTION: A rabbi has been told by one of his congregants that she suffers from a rare disorder which may kill her prematurely. The congregant now intends to be married. The woman in question has stated clearly that she will commit suicide if the information is divulged to her fiancé. Is it the rabbi's duty to inform the groom or should the information given in a confidential manner be kept secret by the rabbi?

ANSWER: The biblical prohibition against "being a tale bearer" is quite precise ( Lev. 19.16), even when the information is true and accurate ( Yad Hil. Deot. 7.2). However, in this case this biblical citation is opposed by others in the same chapter of Leviticus, "You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind" ( Lev. 19.14). In other words, one must prevent someone from committing a sin or placing themselves in a position of personal or financial loss ( Had Hil. Rotzeah 12.4, 1.13). Nor should "one stand idly by the blood of your neighbor" ( Lev. 19.16). This has been interpreted to indicate that one should do everything possible to protect life and property from injury directly or indirectly, including providing information ( Yad Hil. Rotzeah 1.13 Shulhan Arukh Hoshen Mishpat 426.1).

Hafetz Hayim ( Israel Meir Kagan) argued vigorously for disclosure in a case specifically like this one especially as this may be a major factor in the prospective marriage and lack of such information may endanger the stability of the marriage in the future. Furthermore, in this instance, we are dealing with a life- threatening situation and not a vague problem which need not be revealed ( Sefer Hafetz Hayim Hil. Rehilut ♯9).

In analogous situations involving physicians, there is some difference of opinion whether a doctor should volunteer or can be compelled to provide such information, but that is only because it may be contrary to the Hippocratic Oath. Most authorities feel that physicians may be forced to testify ( Eliezer Waldenberg, Tzitz Eliezer, 13 ♯81; Jacob Breish, Helkat Ya-nkov 3, 136). However, Barukh Rakover argues to the contrary and feels that a physician

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