Giving Out Someone’s Cell Phone Without Permission

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    By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

    The texts went something like this:

    Please call me for a sec. Bit time sensitive. Need a number. Thx.

    The recipient of the text responded with this:

    718-555-5555

    That’s his office number. I want his cell. I won’t tell him you gave it to me. 

    It might be megaleh sod – revealing a secret.

    Is it really a sod? Did he tell you not to give it out? Do other people have it? My guess is many ppl have it. We’re past the stage of ppl hiding their cell #. He doesn’t have to answer if he doesn’t like the caller.

    SO WHO IS RIGHT?

    So who is right?  If you are pretty sure that the cell phone owner would not welcome the outsider’s call – is it permitted to give out his cell number to the caller in the first place?

    The general issue is called by Shlomo HaMelech in Mishlei (11:13) as “megaleh sod” – revealing a secret. Holech rachil megaleh sod. He tells us that one who reveals secrets is called a gossiper.

    REWARD FOR KEEPING SECRETS

    The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 20:21) tells us that one of the four reasons that we merited to be redeemed from Mitzrayim is because we did not reveal secrets.  The other three are that we did not change our names, our clothing and engage in improper acts.  Keeping a secret is clearly very important.  It is so important that we merited to be liberated from slavery for it.

    The Rosh in his Orchos Chaim (number 41) writes:  Do not reveal secrets of others. Even in regard to non-confidential matters, keep it with the confines of your heart. If you hear these same things once again from someone else, do not say that you have heard this already.

    THE GEMORAH IN YUMA

    The Gemorah in Yuma (4b), citing Rabbi Musyah the Great, tells us that when someone tells you something in private – the tacit assumption one must make is that it is forbidden to reveal it until he explicitly tells you that you can.  The Gemorah refers to the prohibition of repeating the information as within the category of “Bal Yomar” – one may not say it.

    TWO UNDERSTANDINGS OF RAV MUSYAH’S SOURCE

    The simple reading of the Gemorah is that it is derived from the fact that Sefer Vayikrah (1:1) begins with Vayedaber Hashem and then says le’emor.  This means that he needed special permission to repeat it.  Otherwise he would not have been able to reveal it.

    Rashi understands the Gemorah slightly differently.  He understands the word Le’emor as an abbreviation of sorts to mean “Lo Amor – do not say.”  In other words it is a type of notrikun – a word play.

    EVEN WHEN NOT SPECIFICALLY TOLD AS A SECRET

    From the Meiri’s words (Yuma 4b “Mimah”) on this Gemorah it seems that the prohibition is even if it was not told over to him as a secret per se.  Rav Betzalel Stern zt”l (B’Tzel HaChochma Volume IV SIman 84) writes similarly, but states that whenever something is told to an individual person – one must assume that it is within the prohibition of Bal Yomar.  Rav Stern cites the Sefer Dina d’Chayei on the Sefer Mitzvos Gedolos  (Lav #9) to the same effect – that it is only when it is told privately.

    IS IT TRULY A PROHIBITION?

    The Gemorah’s language seems to indicate that it is a full fledged prohibition.  In the Meiri’s restatement of the Gemorah, he writes that the Gemorah is teaching us derech eretz.  He also cites the verse in Mishlei (11:13), “v’ne’eman ruach mechaseh davar – someone who is honest of spirit is discreet about the matter.”  The import of the use of the pasuk is that it is derech eretz or advice.

    Rabbi Shlomo Luria (the Maharshal) also comments on the SMaG and uses the language of “yihiyu lefanech b’lav emor – should be before you within the prohibition of what may not be said.”  The wording of “should be before you” may indicate that it is good advice rather than absolute halacha.

    THE GEMORAH IN SANHEDRIN

    The Gemorah in Sanhedrin (31a) tells us that Rabi Ami actually threw a talmid out of the Beis Midrash because he had revealed secrets that were said in the Bais Midrash some 22 years earlier.  He explained that this man reveals secrets.

    CELL PHONES

    An argument could be made, as did the texter above, that since some people do have the cell phone it is not within the category of a secret.   This author would like to suggest that we need to understand the reason behind why it is such a bad thing to do.  Perhaps the main reason is that it is a violation of v’ahavta larayacha kamocha – loving thy neighbor as thyself.  The Gemorah formulates a related theme – that which is hateful unto you do not do to your friend.  It would seem that this would apply here too, whether or not other people have the cell phone number.

    HE COULD IGNORE YOU

    There is also the question as to whether there is any real damage here.  The Chofetz Chaim writes in a footnote (Be’er Mayim Chaim, Loshon Harah 2:27) that when there is no real damage, it may not be prohibited – even though it is meritorious to avoid it.  We see from the Chofetz Chaim’s words that he understands the Gemorah as referring to a full blown prohibition – not just good advice.  Not everyone would agree with this position, however.  The Gaon Rabbi Zalman, author of the Tanya and the Shulchan Aruch Harav, writes (OC 156:14) that there is an across the board violation and he does not make any additional caveats or conditions.  We also see from his words that he disagrees with the aforementioned Meiri as to whether it is merely good advice or a full prohibition.

    CONCLUSIONS

    Notwithstanding the idea that some authorities feel that it is merely good advice, the majority of our Poskim believe that it is actually prohibited.  As far as whether or not there is actual damage, chassidim who would rule like the baal hatanya must be stringent, while those who follow the Chofetz Chaim should be stringent.  If you know that the person would be annoyed, it may still be a problem of a negation of loving thy fellow as thyself.

    Finally, when the question was recently posed to one of America’s leading Poskim, the response was that it is indeed a prohibition of megaleh sod, revealing a secret, unless one has specific permission to give out the cell phone number.

    The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com

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    1 COMMENT

    1. as usual it depends WHO!
      GIVING OUT MY CELL would be nothing
      however if you were to give ralph herzka or ruby schron etc ..their numbers are a “sod ” and with fair reason

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