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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review July 31, 2006 / 6 Menachem-Av, 5766

Read Receipts

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


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Should you respond to all those annoying email pop-up requests?


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: May I demand read receipts of people? Do I have to respond to them?


A: Modern e-mail programs include a lot of useful bells and whistles: cc, bcc, forward, request read receipt, etc. It's fine to to take advantage of these features, but it's wrong to take advantage of your correspondents. All of these features have ethical pitfalls. An earlier column discussed cc and bcc; this week we will discuss read receipts.


One of the most frustrating situations for a correspondent, whether a friend or a business associate, is to wait patiently for a reply, when in fact you're not sure the recipient ever got the original communication. Is the person purposely ignoring us? Does he or she need time to consider our request? Perhaps it's just a particularly busy time, or the recipient is on vacation. (Yes, once upon a time, people took vacations from their business correspondence.) Or maybe the letter never got through, or got flagged as "spam" (an increasingly common situation, as the exploding amounts of junk e-mails compel users to use more inclusive filters.)


The makers of e-mail programs provide us with a solution: the "read receipt". When the recipient examines his or her e-mail, a little box pops up asking if the reader is willing to confirm that in fact he or she has read (or received) the message. Result: no more uncertainty on the side of the recipient.


However, this bit of paradise for the sender can be a miniature torment for the recipient. First of all, it's just plain annoying to have all those little pop-ups springing at you, and to have to respond to all of them. More important, sometimes -- often -- we just don't want the sender to know if we're ignoring them, thinking of them, too busy for them, etc. Harmonious relations among human beings often depend on "plausible deniability", keeping some knowledge to ourselves.


The first thing we should know is that there is no general ethical responsibility to respond to these requests. Not every person who sends us email has a right to know if and when we read his or her message. (Of course there are exceptions, which we will mention shortly.) By the same token, it is not always fair to ask for such a receipt. Here is a parallel from Jewish tradition.


The Torah demands that everyone should be truthful, commanding us, "Distance yourself from every false matter." Torah scholars are expected to be even more exacting, holding to the truth even in situations where we could excuse an average person for evasion. But the Talmud tells us that there are some situations where even a Torah scholar is permitted to be evasive: when someone puts him on the spot with an embarrassing and intrusive question. (1) Since read receipts often fall into this category, don't feel obligated to respond to every such request.


This in turn strongly suggests that it is wrong in the first place to put the recipient in such an embarrassing situation. It may come out eventually exactly when the letter was received, and if no read receipt was sent it could cause an awkward feeling. The Torah tells us "Don't oppress each man his fellow" (Leviticus 25:17), and Maimonides explains that this refers to statements which embarrass the interlocutor and to which no reply can be mustered. (2)


The solution is to avoid using read receipts routinely. Before you demand one, ask yourself: Does this person really owe me an answer? Often the answer is yes. If you are the boss, or a customer or supplier with an urgent issue, you will often have a right to put someone on the spot. Parents have the right when it is something relating to their own well-being. And any friend or colleague can occasionally find himself in a situation where he or she really needs help and decide that in this case it is appropriate to impose on someone. As I wrote in a previous column, being ethical doesn't mean we never make demands on other people and never impose on them; Judaism believes in mutual obligations and sometimes we have to insist on these.


But if we consider things carefully, we will probably conclude that in most cases it is most thoughtful to leave off the read receipt and trust the good will of the recipient to respond in a prompt and responsible way. A corollary: when we receive mail we should also respond thoughtfully. If we think the other person is anxiously waiting our answer, then it's best to e-mail a short reply: "I'm really busy right now, I'll take care of your letter when I can give it the attention it deserves"; or, "I'll do my best to get back to you, this is not exactly up my alley"; or, "I'm working on your issue right now, I'll get back to you when I have something to report."


POST SCRIPT: The Jewish Ethicist probably deserves many of the "read receipts" requested of him, since he is not always careful to respond promptly as he recommends. Maybe in light of this column I will take my own advice and get back to people more quickly. I remind my readers that due to the very large amount of reader mail, for which I am very grateful, it is not possible for me to respond to every letter. But I definitely do read every letter, and I assure you that every one contributes to my ethical understanding and to the quality of the column.


SOURCES: (1) Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 23b; Shulchan Aruch Choshen, Mishpat 262:21. (2) Sefer HaMitzvos, negative precepts 251.

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JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, formerly of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Jerusalem College of Technology. To comment or pose a question, please click here.


Previously:

Do I have to reimburse someone who tried to do me a favor?
Seeking credit card debt settlement
Can I threaten to spread the word about someone who cheated me?
How can the terminally ill tap into their life insurance?
Is there value in an unhappy marriage?
Where does the Almighty fit into your corporation's mission statement?
Does an expert witness have to be impartial?
Should I give recognition to a modest man who did a great deed?
In representing my firm, can I tell a white lie?
Defrauding insurance to save a life
Can top level management unilaterally give away money to corporate dollars to charity?
Loans to Family Members
How much worker supervision is too much?
Should I turn in a colleague for inappropriate acts?
Priority in charitable giving
Trolls and ogres
How many hours of work is too many?
Can I promote my product by having it unobtrusively written into a story?
He's not heavy he's my brother
All's fair in war?, II
All's fair in war?
Girth vs. worth
Is it proper to tax bequests?
Ethics of Being Overweight
Penalized for working swiftly
When is it a bluff?
'Rate and switch'
My paycheck is late!
Should schools cater to an elite?
All's fair in love?
Comfort and Competition
Do I need the caller's permission to put a call on the speakerphone?
Overtime for lost time
Is it unethical to play suppliers against each other to get the lowest bid possible?
Do family members have precedence in charity allotments?
What the world of business can teach us about our annual process of repentance and renewal
Are religious leaders subject to criticism?
Vindictive Vendor: How can I punish an abusive competitor?
Blogging Ethics: Is the blogger responsible for defamatory posts?







© 2005, The Jewish Ethicist is produced by the JCT Center for Business Ethics