Accidentally Listening To A Painful Conversation
A Moral Dilemma for the Shabbos Table

By Rabbi Yitzi Weiner

This week’s Torah portion talks about the bells that were on the hem of the Kohen Gadol, the high priest. The Gemara in Pesachim (112a) says that these bells were there to alert people that he was coming before he would enter a room.

There is a mitzva that one is not allowed to enter a home, and even his own home, without knocking first. This is because he may startle a person inside, and also because he may be interrupting something private.

This is connected to a general mitzva not to snoop into the private matters of another person. This applies to not peeking onto their home, not reading their private correspondence, and not eavesdropping on private conversations. (Click HERE for beautiful stories about this mitzva)

This brings us to the following moral dilemma.

Zev was once sitting in a shul learning Torah. Two men came into the shul and began to talk in the ezras nashim, the women’ssection. They didn’t notice that Zev was learning across the partition. Then one of the men began to discuss a very painful, sensitive and personal issue. When Zev heard the conversation, it was clear to him that had the men known he was there they would not have discussed this out loud.

Zev tried closing his ears, but he was still able to make out the conversation. Zev wondered to himself if he as obligated to close his Sefer, his Torah book and leave the room in order to avoid eavesdropping on this private conversation.

On one hand he was not allowed to listen in on this conversation. But on the other hand, he was in the shul first. He was doing what he was supposed to be doing. Why was it fair that he would have to leave because these men decided to talk there? Maybe it was their fault for not talking in a more private place.

What do you think? Was Zev require to close his sefer and leave the shul?

See Chashukei Chemed Baba Basra page 45.

Answer to “Did He Remember”
This story was discussed in Hebrew Veharev Na Volume Two page 443. Rabbi Zilbertein answers, that if the man is giving a significant donation then Shalom has an obligation to remind him that he gave already. But if it is just a few coins and one can assume he is giving again, then he can be quiet.

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