Rabbi, we have a problem: should Boris have been reported?

A Jewish dramatist, Eve Leigh, was one half of the couple that taped and alerted the police to Boris Johnson’s row with his partner last weekend — before giving the story to the press. But did Leigh do the right thing? We ask the rabbis


Rabbi Danny Rich: Judaism, in common with other jurisdictions, makes a general presumption of privacy.

It arises from the account of nakedness in the Garden of Eden and from the story of the drunken embarrassment of Noah where it is reported that Shem and Japheth received blessing because they covered their father but Ham and his descendants were condemned for reporting it.

More relevant, the Mishnah (Bava Batra 3:7) requires that, if one builds an apartment with a common courtyard, one’s doors or windows should not be directly opposite those of one’s neighbour.

In the case of Boris Johnson, his neighbours responded to what they thought was a possible violent domestic dispute by calling the police in accord with the Holiness Code principle, do not stand by (Leviticus 19:16).

It would appear, however, that although the police had concluded their investigation, the neighbours then handed a recording they had made of the exchange between Boris Johnson and his partner to a newspaper which is not known for its sympathies with Johnson.

In an ideal world, our leaders would be like those recommended to Moses by Jethro (Exodus 18:21): capable, God-fearing, trustworthy, and spurners of bribery.

However, like every one of us, leaders falter or have their imperfections; but it is a moot point whether our leaders have fallen or whether the gossip, or one who humiliates another in public, has fallen the further.

If Boris Johnson has more foibles to follow, let it be his own words and actions which condemn him.

Danny Rich is Senior Rabbi and Chief Executive of Liberal Judaism


Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet: It is impossible to function in the field of journalism without being constantly confronted with the question of what may be reported to the public and what may not.

In Jewish law there are general rules against talking badly about people, whether public figures or private individuals. The broad exception is that such information may be revealed when it is for purposes of a benefit. What public figures do or say has an impact upon me; what some private individual says does not. To that extent, there is a distinction between private persons and public figures. However, the distinction between public and private has a tremendous impact in terms of the exceptions to the general rule as well. What a public figure does in the privacy of his home is not a concern of the public at large.

Moreover, Jewish law maintains that even in cases where it is permitted for purposes of a benefit, “purity of intent” is an essential condition. That his neighbour recorded Mr Johnson’s spat before phoning the police calls into question his intent. That he submitted the recording to the press is a blatant intrusion of privacy. That he later complained about the media prying into his own private life is symptomatic of a sanctimonious snowflake generation.

Yitzchak Schochet is the Rabbi of Mill Hill United Synagogue


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