Sunday, 2 November 2008

Hearing Both Sides

I recently saw an article on Ynet regarding a charedi woman who was suing a cell phone company in Israel for a breach of privacy. According to this article, the cell phone company gave this woman's husband a list of her calls thus breaching her privacy. The result for the woman was quite detrimental for the list showed that she was calling a certain man quite often and with this information the husband went to beit din to request a get and a favourable divorce settlement which he received. The woman maintained that the relationship she had with this man she was calling was, in fact, quite platonic and was actually for the purposes of gaining insight into how to protect her marriage which was having some difficulties. The result of all this was that the woman not only became divorced but was also ostracized from the charedi community thus she lost her social life, her married life, and her children, for which she maintained custody, were to a large extent abandoned by their father. The woman maintains that under the privacy guarantees which were built into the contract with the phone company, the company was negligible for giving her husband the information about the calls. It seems that the husband got the information by telling the phone company representative that his wife was in labour and needed this information. The woman maintains that there was even a password on the account and the phone company had no right to give this information without the password.

There are further details but upon reading the article one becomes enraged with the phone company for releasing this information to the husband and causing such grief to this woman. One also becomes enraged with the charedi community for treating this woman in this way and supporting the husband's treatment of her, in fact even fostering this treatment. Then, upon reflection, one recognizes that one has only heard one side of the story. The newspaper has presented the story from the perspective of the woman. We do not hear the phone company's side, although the article does state that the company has stated that they are a law abiding company and would never violate the privacy rules within their company. Still, we do not really encounter both sides. The husband is also not given a voice. One may wonder whether under the laws of loshon hara such reporting is even appropriate but one can see the way people are manipulated by the way a story is presented and its onesidedness. At first one takes the presentation for granted as true. Only afterwards does one consider that one has only heard one side of the story.

Then there is the very dynamics of the story. This woman was involved in a behaviour that would be frowned upon by the charedi community. She knew this so why is she now upset with the consequences of her actions by this community. I am not defending the charedi position. I am completely against many of the charedi policies that are instrumental within this story -- the problem with women talking to men; the invasion of privacy that, according to this report, the beit din accepted; the treatment of the woman in the get/divorce proceedings -- but I am not a member of this community. In fact, to some extent, these are reasons why I am not. I, though, have difficulty understanding a person choosing to be part of this community and then being upset when the community simply follows its rules, rules that the woman knew about. If you don't like being part of the charedi world, don't be part of it. I find it problematic when someone acts as a member of that community then also acts in clandestine ways contrary to the community, then is upset when the community finds out and takes action pursuant to its rules. On the grander scale, that is not the way to fight what you believe to be wrong in the first place.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

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