Phone Hacking - a Jewish Response

The response to the ever emerging depths of insensitivity and outlandish disregard of the law and human decency by tabloid journalists at the News of the World has been deepening shock over the last week. Many have been disgusted by the callousness with which murdered school girls and grieving families have been treated, no to mention the ways in which some of this behaviour even misled investigators.
But don't we as a society also have a responsibility? Journalists have been pushing the boundaries further and further to get that extra bit of precious insight and information because it sells more papers, and we are also hungry for knowledge.
It is ironic that all this really came to fruition in the week of parashat Balak - when Bila'am is charged with the task of cursing the Israelites by Balak. Only praises come out of his mouth, including the form of the song which opens many shabbat services - Ma Tovu - 'How good are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel'.
Now I love camping (not the glamping kind either), and I think I'm pretty good at furnishing a tent, but it's a strange thing that the blessing Bila'am finds coming out of his mouth is in praise of our tents! Didn't the Israelites have any more redeeming qualities?
The Rabbis also wonder about this, and for them, this praise of the tents actually informs us of something very important about how we should live as a society (which is what the Israelite encampment was). Baba Batra 60a sees Bila'am's blessing as praising the Hebrews for preserving personal privacy, despite living in an overcrowded camp with not very thick walls! How did they manage such a feat? They set up their tents so the entrance of one was never opposite the entrance of another - they could never see inside another person's home and private domain. I'm sure conversations were overheard at times, but they did what they could to ensure each family had privacy. It is this privacy that we have seen so thoroughly shattered in the last week, and which we must insist on in our own lives, tastes, behaviours and demands, in order to demonstrate to those who would feed our demands, what is worthy of news, and what is just intrusion, interference, corruption and unacceptable.


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