Publishing Torah Insights Without Permission

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Regarding the correspondence in this post, R. Shaul Yisraeli had sent R. Shlomo Goren a letter about his (R. Goren’s) article. R. Goren then wrote a response and forwarded both the letter and the response to the newspaper for publication. R. Goren later said that he had asked the newspaper to obtain permission from R. Yisraeli before publishing his letter, but that never happened and R. Yisraeli was upset. R. Goren then wrote a letter apologizing but arguing that even though he would ask for permission, it was not necessarily halakhically required. R. Yisraeli then published that letter (presumably with permission) along with a response in the journal Techumin, vol. 4 pp. 354-360. Here are the arguments.

1. R. Goren quotes the Gemara in Yoma (4b) derives that you may not repeat something that you hear because it says (Lev. 1:1), “Now the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him from the tabernacle of meeting, saying.” The last word — “saying” (leimor) — teaches us that you have to be given explicit permission to repeat something you are told. This is quoted in the Magen Avraham (156:2). Presumably, one would therefore not be allowed to publish a letter without permission.

2. However, the Tosefta (Bava Kamma ch. 7) states that someone who “steals” (overhears) someone else’s teachings may go and repeat the teachings. The Shakh (292:35) rules, based on this, that you may copy Torah insights from someone else’s book even if he doesn’t want you to. Therefore, it would seem that one would be allowed to publish a letter of Torah insights without permission.

3. To explain the contradiction between the above two sources, R. Goren posits that the Gemara in Yoma was referring to non-Torah related material while the Tosefta deals with Torah. Thus, one would technically be allowed to publish a letter of Torah insights without permission. Although it is always best to obtain permission.

4. R. Yisraeli responded that the contradiction can be explained based on the rule that one must review one’s Torah thoughts multiple times before teaching them in public, to ensure that they are properly thought out and appropriately worded. Thus, if you tell someone privately a Torah insight he may not repeat it without permission because it might not be sufficiently well thought out for public consumption. Hence the Gemara in Yoma. But an individual may intentionally overhear (“steal”) a Torah insight that is not ready for the public, if he himself will also not reveal it to the public. Thus, either way, a letter that was written for an individual should not be shared with the public because the thoughts might be insufficiently worked out or not worded optimally.

(See also this post regarding the proper attribution of secondary sources.)

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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