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Thursday, May 26, 2005

But everyone's doing it... right?

A couple of days ago I was over at Life-of-Rubin and read with interest his take on a website hawking Jewish ringtones for cell phones.  This site (no, I'm not going to provide a link and give free traffic to a criminal enterprise!) isn't yet functioning, but it already has a front page up. 

Life-of-Rubin suggests that the Jewish Ringtones site will probably get sued, since they are unlikely to even go through the motions of securing permission to use the artist's names or music.  But I disagree.  The site owners are on pretty safe ground there.  By choosing to carry only ringtones of Jewish artists they are infringing on the rights of people who, as a group, have proven themselves to be as lazy about protecting their rights as their listening public has been aggressive about trampling them.

Anyone who knows me is aware that one of my (many) pet peeves is the rather, shall we say, casual attitude my 'religious' coreligionists have towards intellectual property rights and copyright infringement.

Walk into any Judaica store in the world and you will find bins full of kippot (yarmulkes) bearing the logos of every major sports franchise and sneaker company... Hannukiot (menoras) and dreidles (tops) painted with characters from the latest Disney or Pixar film... and other miscellaneous tchotchkes emblazoned with every conceivable proprietary image. 

The problem is that most, if not all of this stuff was created without bothering to get (i.e. pay for) rights to use the images and logos.

Whenever I have pointed this out to the store owners I have invariably gotten the old,

"Oh c'mon now... everybody does it." 

When I have tried to use terminology that should carry more weight with these guys such as 'G'nivat HaDa'at' (the term in Jewish law for stealing someone else's ideas or intellectual property), they wave me away with lame excuses such as,

"You think the Yankees really mind if some kid walks around with their logo on his kippah?  Puleeeze, I'm sure that not only are they me'ayesh (a technical term meaning to relinquish all claim to something) any money they might have seen from this kind of thing... but they probably like the exposure!"

Yeah... that makes sense.  If sales of Yankee tickets and Nike sneakers are up this year, it's because of all the free publicity they are getting on the heads of Yeshiva kids!

Getting back to the Jewish singing artists... within minutes of any album of Jewish music being released it is being copied and handed around yeshivas and seminaries throughout the major Jewish population centers.  The artists and distributors just shrug, saying "What can we do... this is the price of popularity!"

The few Radio stations that continue to broadcast this genre of music reinforce the 'anything goes' attitude towards copyrights by not paying royalties to the artists or copyright owners whose music they broadcast.  For their part, the artists wouldn't dare ask for royalties from the radio stations because that would get them blacklisted from the programs they need for exposure!

This attitude that everything and anything is in the public domain is so antithetical to Jewish law that I can't get my head around why the religious community continues to tolerate it.  I can't tell you how many times I have gotten e-mail from friends who have seen my content on other people's sites with no attribution or link.  I guess these people think the Creative Commons license over in my site's gutter is just for show!

No... I'm afraid this 'Jewish Music Ringtones' site is safe... they won't be sued.  They are counting on the implicit 'honor-among-thieves' attitude that allowed almost the entire Jewish population of Boro Park to run their computers on a single pirated copy of Windows 95 throughout the mid-to-late '90s.

Nothing has changed since then.


Posted by David Bogner on May 26, 2005 | Permalink


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This would be a great time to write a post called Dangerous Fantasies of Revenge, but I see that it has already been done.

Unfortunately people have a proclivity for trying to take the path of least resistance. And in these cases when they have an opportunity to make/save a buck they'll do it.

And in a situation like this where they have a hard time seeing how their actions could possibly hurt anyone they are going to go ahead and do what they do regardless of whether it is right or wrong.

The world is not black and white, but theft is theft even when no one sees you steal it.

Perhaps I will blog about it. Hmmm.........

Posted by: Jack | May 26, 2005 10:59:08 AM

Jack... It's a lot deeper than just seeing this kind of theft as a victimless crime. The people stealing logos, images, copy and any other sort of intellectual property for their own gain don't understand the problem with making money from something they had no hand (or stake) in creating.

Posted by: David | May 26, 2005 11:08:14 AM

When I was in yeshiva years ago, I brought up the question with friends about copying audio tapes. I can still remember the look on one friends face when he said "Don't ask that question!"

It was, and is, sort of an unspoken rule that copying anything - music, software, movies -- is OK.

Now the exposure aspect here is relevant. I know authors who have told me as such (and would have otherwise been concerned about copyright issues). But I don't know if it holds water halachically.

Even now, to post about it, I feel like my friend did back in yeshiva. I've certainly been guilty of it in the past (although I've tried to improve lately). I know that it's not the right thing to do, but to publicly discuss it is to confirm it, and that's simply not easy. Especially when it's so common.

Maybe this is somehow a case of "a decree that the community can't bear"? That also doesn't seem fair, because there are people getting hurt if the decree isn't upheld.

Bottom line - I don't know. You've touched a halachic third rail here.

Posted by: Dave | May 26, 2005 11:46:58 AM

When my kids were studying in the Prozdor program at the JTS in New York City, I was horrified to see that they received study books which had been photocopied. These students were teenagers, and I was paying for them to be taught (by example, the strongest teaching technique) that stealing in a Jewish context is OK. I'm proud of them for dropping out. I should have objected to the school authorities, but I was a secular divorced woman: I didn't think anyone would have listened.

Posted by: savtadotty | May 26, 2005 1:12:25 PM

you mean there are people out there who copied your posts verbatim? and posted it as their own words? they copied from a more-than-popular journal and....???

i thought there were idiots out there. but this clearly topped it. i wonder if these are the people who always managed to get themselves around plagiarism rules at university [or school, or college...].

if it wasn't so childish, i'd opt for a new sidebar column: "successfully plagiarised by...".

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | May 26, 2005 1:26:35 PM

I'm with Dave on this one honey.... I am wincing with discomfort over the very public nature of the discussion. Just my opinion.....

Posted by: zahava | May 26, 2005 3:19:06 PM

I agree with you...I do not lend music to people who I know will copy it. I

Posted by: Essie | May 26, 2005 3:50:38 PM

Dave... For years I (and many people who feel as I do) have tried to broach this touchy subject. Within our insular communities we get the kinds of responses I described in my post. When we try to bring it up in 'mixed company', we are told its a "shanda fur die goyim" (a shame in front of the non-Jews). I'm done with that crap. Discussing criminal behavior is not the shame... it is the behavior itself! It is especially troubling when people who hold themselves to extremely high standards in many other [visible] areas of their lives adopt a very lax approach to the issue of ownership of ideas and services. Just because an aveira (sin) is widely committed does not excuse it.

Savtadotty... Good for you. To photocopy textbooks is tantamount to stealing money from the people who wrote them and the companies that published them. By doing so the school was dismissing out of hand the years of scholarship that gave the authors the knowledge to write the textbooks... as well as the cost / risk involved in opening and running a publishing company.

mademoiselle a. ... You would be shocked to hear the names of the well-known places in which my content has turned up! In some cases it is presented as "I saw this today" without giving a hint as to where it came from. In a few cases it has simply been posted under someone else's name. While this kind of thing pisses me off, it is not really at the heart of what I'm ranting about here. I don't get paid to write this crap. However, if you make your living from music, software, graphic design, writing, publishing, etc., you are having money taken out of your pocket each time someone takes it upon themselves to 'lend' or 'borrow' your work.

Zahava... I'm shocked. You, who won't use a font unless it is bought and paid for. You, who are in an industry where your only product is what the market will pay for original ideas... I'm just shocked that you would subscribe to the 'shanda fur die goyim' attitude and hope things get better on their own. There was a time when a certain youth organization tried to use the 'let's hope things fix themselves without any intervention' approach to an open secret of abuse. It wasn't until these people were shamed in front of the world at large that any serious hand-wringing began to take place. We no longer live in European ghettos where our problems have nothing to do with the outside world. The cost of being both religiously Jewish and part of the modern world economy is having to be above reproach. I don't care what standard the 'goyim' hold us too... we are supposed to hold ourselves to a higher standard!

Essie... my friends and family know that I will only copy music that is no longer in print. Good for you.

Posted by: David | May 26, 2005 4:34:02 PM

I'm glad you brought this up aa it needs to be discussed publicly. (Sorry, Zahava.)

You're touching on what I think is a major weakness of Orthodoxy today. (For those who don't know me, I'm not bashing Orthodoxy. I belong to a modern Orthodox synagogue; I bash all denominations equally!) A major problem with Orthodoxy is the elevation of holiness (or of laws between man and G-d) over ethics (laws between man and his fellow). My brother in law who for a decade was haredi [black hat, the rightmost edge of Orthodoxy] said there are Jews who know exactly what time they have to be at shul [synagogue] to daven [pray] and they'll run over you to get there.

After all, not stealing isn't some minority rabbinic opinion, it's right there in the Torah! Another shameful thing is that in some communities there is frequently a lower standard of behavior if the owner of a stolen or lost item is not Jewish. When Orthodoxy takes property rights as seriously as prayer, dietary laws, and Sabbath laws, I truly believe we will be much closer to doing our mission here.

Think about the diamond industry, which is basically the sale of plentiful, easily mined and easily manufactured goods, that would be essentially worthless in a free market, and artificially "creating value" (i.e. stealing) by having a foreign monopoly control the worldwide supply. Unlike rubies and other gems which have intrinsic value due to their rarity, if DeBeers had any competition, diamonds would be worth nothing. Now, let's see... The members of which religion are prominently over represented in the diamond trade? Mormons? Buddhists?

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 26, 2005 4:34:09 PM

Doctor Bean... You had me until the diamond bit. Cornering the market on a commodity is not stealing... and even if you could stretch the definition to fit, I don't think the the people doing the cornering in this case are Jews. Sure many of the people in the cutting and distribution of diamonds are Jews... but there are also many other nationalities and religious groups involved. If I own the only well in the desert, it doesn't matter that the water in the well is nearly limitless. The fact remains that it is my water and I can charge whatever the market will bear for it. Not very nice... but certainly not stealing!

Now, to the issue at hand. Even if some bright Talmudist wanted to argue that copying software and lifting images off of the Internet is not really stealing since it is not from Jews... we again fall into the whole problem of being all mixed up in the world economy. The software engineer who wrote the program... the shareholder of the software company...l the graphic designer who created the nifty image or font... any of these people could be Jewish so that little loophole is so much crap. But how do these people get around copying the latest Jewish music albums or photocopying Jewish texts??? Certainly most, if not all of the people involved in creating and selling these items are Jewish. This is a serious business and the title of my post was carefully selected to describe an attitude that can no longer be tolerated.

The real issue is that we protest when the world holds Jews to a higher standard, yet everything in our own teachings says that they are supposed to.

Posted by: David | May 26, 2005 5:05:32 PM


I agree with your dissatisfaction towards the attitude that the frum community has about intellectual copyrights. I have written about honesty in business before, this is one of the things that kills me more than anything when fellow "frum" people act this way, when it comes to business, they think being aggressive and having no business ethics are the same thing.

Regarding the actual Ringtones site. The Jewish music industry is completely backwards from the non Jewish market. Artists rely to heavily on producers and stores to sell their product. Mostly because 75 percent of the Yeshivish/Frum music is similar and not very good. They have to force it down the market's throat. If they had solid products people would make the radio stations play it, make the stores get it, and the pressure would be reversed back to the way it should be.

BUT, when it comes to ring tones, I feel their own ego's will come first. "Who is this guy think he is coming out of no where and selling my music as his own" They will see the $$$ to be made on ringtones. As in the non jewish market these ringtones are selling for 1.50 to 2 dolalrs and up. There is a lot of money to be made on ringtones in a market that has never been tested yet. Once the Yerachmial Beguns, Eli Gerstners, Yossi Green's and Yaakov Shwekey's see someone else making money that could go straight into THIER pocket, it could get ugly. If you need further proof. See Neshoma Carlebach, who has had no problem suing people in the past for trying to make money off her father.

The only answer to this, is if the rabbi's take the issue serious and realize we are in a new age of technology where new G'neviahs are now possible. This is stealing just as it is to walk over to a fruit store and take an apple without paying. Once the Rabbi's start telling the students in their schools and Yeshivahs and parents enforce it at home, and adults realize for 15 bucks they can own their own copy and avoid doing an serious aveirah maybe than things will change.

Posted by: Chaim | May 26, 2005 5:06:24 PM

Chaim... You make a strong point about the ecomomy of the Jewish music business that had never occurred to me. However, if they don't jump in very quickly to block the ringtones before they are widely availible, the Jewish artists will be stuck with the 'everyone is doing it' problem that exists elsewhere in the industry.

Posted by: David | May 26, 2005 5:11:56 PM

I agree with the main premise that Orthodoxy has a tendency to steal. I also agree that it is not discussed often enough. I further agree that this is indicative of a general apathy towards other people in favor of a relationship with God. I think you're stretching just a tiny bit when you throw the diamond industry in there.

Posted by: tmeishar | May 26, 2005 5:13:45 PM

Can people trade ringtones? Cause from my Verizon phone I dont think you can share, only download. (at $2 a pop! Talk about Genaivah)

Posted by: Chaim | May 26, 2005 5:14:33 PM

Found the link on hirhurim.blogspot.com:

RCA Calls Upon Community to Desist from Downloading Copyrighted Music and Other Materials from the Internet


At least RCA is vocal about it.

Posted by: Greg T | May 26, 2005 5:32:48 PM

tmeishar... No, orthodoxy does not have a tendency to steal... however, some orthodox people do. I'm not trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater here... just draw attention to the fact that a person who requires the extra-glatt mehadrin meal on the airplane and spends days looking for the perfect etrog should also be made to feel a little social pressure to be careful about laws relating to ownership. This is where the higher standard thing comes in. If I see someone eating a ham sandwich, I can't very well appeal to hem/her on religious grounds to not rip tracks off the Internet or from someone else's CD collection. The only law that that person 'respects' is the civil authorities, and then only to the extent that those authorities can make a serious threat of enforcement. When you are talking about people who are committed to the idea of an omniscient 'higher judge'... then there should be some way to influence their behavior. I am observant (I hate the term orthodox) and I am far from perfect in my behavior. But I feel strongly that you can't have your cake and eat it too. Holding yourself to a higher standard means that everyone else can do so as well. Not living up to those standards is the true 'shame in front of the non-Jews'.

Chaim... I'm not sure if you can share them... but if there is a way to do so, you can be sure someone will find a way to do it. :-)

Greg... The RCA is a good first baby step. But the ripple effect of the orthodox Jewish community feeds from the right towards the left... and not the other way around. The RCA will have a limited influence on the center of the spectrum and that will ripple over towards the left. But for the right end of the spectrum to feel any heat over this issue the Agudah and many of the well respected Hassidic leaders will have to make official pronouncements on the subject.

Posted by: David | May 26, 2005 5:34:12 PM

One of my favorite Jewish music artists, Robbi Sherwin, put a note on her CD which says, "Please do not copy this CD -- it's not nice... really, buy another one instead! I'll make you such a deal."

Sad to hear that copyright infringement is the norm in Israel. I think it's worse though in Mexico and China, so no reason to see the Jews as worse than anyone else, just more of the same. But we often expect better of our own people, and it's good to keep the pressure on to live up to higher standard.

(Um, David, hope you don't mind that I just gave Robbi a free plug on your blog. Was that rude? Bad netiquette?)

Posted by: Mirty | May 26, 2005 6:08:42 PM

"shanda fur die goyim"

I hate that line in general in part because it has been said in front of me. I may have been wearing a baseball cap and shorts, but it shouldn't be assumed that because a man is no dressed in uniform he might not understand, but that is a side issue.

I am in agreement that this goes deeper than being seen as a victimless crime, but I am cynical about seeing a change in behavior without demonstrating that people are being hurt.

I suspect that to some this is sort of like secondhand smoke. There are advocates who insist that people are hurt by it and others who say that the water is too murky to be certain that anything bad is happening.

Without a physical demonstration I am not sure that you will convince people to buy in on this.

Posted by: Jack | May 26, 2005 6:09:47 PM

This reminds me of the thing about "ask forgiveness, not permission" that you've mentioned in the past. In the case of the ringtones, it's the same thing, isn't it?

I suddenly feel as tho I should look away, and I don't even understand exactly why...

Posted by: Tanya | May 26, 2005 6:41:23 PM

I want to point out that my concern was not how it will be looked at by the goyim. It wasn't my friend's concern in yeshiva also.

It was because "casual" copying is something that is so commonly done (by both Jews and non-Jews), with very little negative stigma (a person isn't ashamed to say they use file-sharing software the way they would be about other illegal activity) and the immediate benefit is so great that he (and I) didn't want this particular new ethical burden.

It was as if we heard that our favorite food was really treif, but most people still ate it, and we didn't want to hear that we couldn't any more.

However it was because of our general commitment to halacha that we wanted to cover our ears. Someone who simply didn't care - wouldn't.

I also don't think that because the sin is widely done it should be excused. But it does mean that if it is to be uprooted it must be done wisely.

Posted by: Dave | May 26, 2005 6:50:36 PM

Always a real pleasure reading you blog.
I would like to note that Moshe Yess is a ASCAP member but he's one of the very few. As far as the Yamulkas go, I agree on some level with the copywrite laws etc. I would like to say I don't think that an article of clothing representing a closeness to g-d shouldbe decorated with something mundane like a Yankee emblem, but that's me.

Posted by: Shloimy | May 26, 2005 6:55:28 PM

Mirty... First off, no... I don't mind if you plug a good artist or album. Being a musician I know that word of mouth is some of the best advertising you can get. As far as the scope and location of the problem goes... I didn't mean to imply it was an Israeli thing, because it's not. I want to reiterate that it isn't an orthodox thing, or eve n a Jewish thing. I just hold Jews to a higher standard... and observant Jews to an even higher standard.

Jack... That's the neat thing about Jewish law. You don't have to reinvent the wheel here... the halacha is really quite clear about theft of intellectual property.

Tanya... When you heard me use that expression I was telling my kids to be more assertive... not steal stuff. As to whether you want to look away or not, please don't think that I am suggesting it. As a non-Jew you may not be aware of some of the buzz words and terminology we're throwing around here. But as a moral person I'm sure you must have an opinion on the subject. By the way, we (meaning I and many of the Jewish commenters) are throwing around the word goyim quite freely and I want to make it clear that this word can be used insultingly (or at least condescendingly), but that is not the way it is being used here. Goy is the word used in the bible to refer to any nation. But in most senses it is used to refer to the nations other than the Jews (e.g. Gentiles).

Dave... Other than the prominent Rabbis across the spectrum of Judaism speaking out to condemn the practice I don't know what 'wise' measure can be taken. I'm open to suggestions though. :-)

Shloimy... That's a different issue. But if you do have a logo or picture on your kippah, if should be authorized and paid for.

Posted by: David | May 26, 2005 8:11:04 PM

One of the biggest jokes & thieving in the Jewish music business has to be "Yidden" originally sung by MBD and plagiarized the world over. The fact that he does nothing to stop people doing it, is probably because he nicked it from Ghengis Khan - a German group who came 3rd place in the Eurovision song contest in 1979. It is hilarious! The video is around the net somewhere. The music is exactly the same and its all in German/Yiddish.
If you listen to enough of both, you'll see that many popular Jewish music is copied from others. So how can they patent it to start with.
As you say, its honor among thieves.

The same copyright law / infringement apply to seforim as well. Especially Artscroll Gemorohs - which has a blatant copyright in the front, yet you can always find copies of their distinct text/layout.

The hardest and probably least learnt / understood part of halocho is Choshen Mishpot, detailing the laws for trade & business. All the schools and Yeshivas go on about learning gemorah, but rarely do they set people up with enough knowledge of the practical/halachic side of business, so people tend to overlook it.

Posted by: Karl | May 26, 2005 8:17:49 PM

Hang on while I pull this foot out of my mouth.

I was not talking about your advice to Ariella. I don't do drive-by parenting. I took "the kitbag question" to be cultural. Let me quote from your comments in the first post about the bees:

"The more I think about it the more I am convinced that culturally, asking permission in advance was the wrong thing to do. There seems to be something in the culture here that perceives such polite behavior as an invitation to become a doormat. Let's just say I've learned an important lesson."

I just thought, if it's a cultural norm to behave this way, it shouldn't be shocking that people/companies would steal original work, in the hope that they won't get caught. I'm not condoning it, I just see a possible correlation here. As always, I am fully prepared to be told I'm wrong. :o)

As for the rest, I just didn't understand why anyone would see a problem with discussing this sort of thing in front of "us." As long as you're discussing what you consider to be moral betterment, rather than planning an offense, why the stigma?

And I have no problem with "goyim," personally. "Shiksa" has a nicer ring, but as a geek, and a redhead, and a girl, and a tomboy, I'm entirely comfortable being excluded.

Posted by: Tanya | May 26, 2005 9:36:06 PM

And incidentally, Ariella's shoes appear to be lilac, not purple. (if they're the same pair in last week's Photo Friday.) Much nicer, and much harder to find.

Posted by: Tanya | May 26, 2005 9:37:49 PM

I don't know that I can add much more to this conversation. Other than to say that I have a son in a black hat yeshiva and it is SHOCKING how rampant theft is there. Music, software, whatever they can get their hands on. They consider themselves to be quite clever. The rebbeim are very good at making sure treife music doesn't get played, but they seem clueless to the gneivas daas going on.

Posted by: psychotoddler | May 26, 2005 9:47:56 PM

I didn't mean to say Orthodoxy. I thought it was clear that I meant Orthodox individuals. Apparently, it wasn't that clear. I apologize.

Posted by: tmeishar | May 26, 2005 9:54:45 PM

I didn't mean to say Orthodoxy. I thought it was clear that I meant Orthodox individuals. Apparently, it wasn't that clear. Of cousrse, it's not all Orthodox Jews and not an intrinsic Orthodox value. I apologize - I think there's something wrong with me today.

Posted by: tmeishar | May 26, 2005 9:55:36 PM

David, got that perfectly right; you know, I'm a clever girl [waaahaha]. But for me, personally, the post-stealing point was more interesting than your actual rant.

So.... well....do you ever comment on your "own" posts? On one of the occasions, you could direct us all to that other place and have us comment there. Or cross-comment, now that everyone's gotten introduced to the trackback business. We would have the time of our lives.

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | May 26, 2005 11:27:22 PM

Ohhhh. You guys had this conversation in front of me and I am soooo going to bring it up at the next Gentile Meeting. WEEEE never steal. Nope. No sir. Never happens. I have no idea what you are talking about. Nooo way. Snort.

I can't believe that there are people out there who think that anyone would be shocked to know that even observant Jewish people sin. DUH. We all suffer from the same flaws of human character.

Posted by: Alice | May 27, 2005 12:26:43 AM

Tanya made me think of something. Can I please get some clarification from some Jewish people, is 'shiksa' a negative term?

Posted by: Alice | May 27, 2005 12:33:59 AM

Can I please get some clarification from some Jewish people, is 'shiksa' a negative term?

The literal meaning of shiksa is not a nice one. Many people are unaware of that and use it as a term of endearment.

So in a sense you could say that you have to listen to the tone of voice in which it is said to determine whether they are being plesant or nasty.

But that still doesn't really change the meaning of the word.

Posted by: Jack | May 27, 2005 12:39:09 AM

Thanks Jack. So if someone said, "Alice is the sexiest shiksa ever born and I want to have her baby" that's cool.

Posted by: Alice | May 27, 2005 12:48:52 AM

Karl... 'Covering' other people's songs is a less clearly defined issue, but I agree that there is often not even an attempt to provide credit to the original composers.

Tanya... OK, but we're splitting hairs now. I personally don't think that the typical Israeli tendency to forge ahead with things until told to stop necessarily leads to stealing. Israelis may be pushy, but they have a very finely developed sense of justice too. As far as Ari's shoes go... yes, those are the same sneakers. The confusion here is that I'm a guy and you're a girl. Guys see the world in 6 or 8 basic colors, with all other colors being expressed as either dark or light versions of those colors. Lastly, whether you like to be called a goya, a shiksa or just 'hey you', I will never knowingly exclude you. :-)

Psychotoddler... I'm always amazed that yeshivot teach 'obscure' halachot such as the need to ask a person's permission before even handling one of his books, yet they gloss over such basic things as stealing.

Tmeishar... I had a feeling that's what you meant but I wanted to make sure we were on the same page. By the way... I have said it in the past and I will say it again. I won't edit anyone's comments without their permission, but if you post a comment and later rethink your permission or regret something you've said, I have no problem if you email me with a request to edit or delete it. We've all regretted comments we've left in the heat of a lively discussion... we're (hopefully) among friends, so no need to stand on formality.

mademoiselle a. ... No, I don't comment, but I always send an e-mail demanding that they either remove my word or provide proper attribution. With one exception the offending passages have simply disappeared without a word. I like your idea about a comment party though. I'll send out the invitations the next time it happens.

Alice... It's not that we want to appear as perfect. It's just that we have always lived in a world that has wanted to think the worst of us, so we try very hard not to draw attention to our flaws publicly. also, as Jack was nice enough to answer, Shiksa can be used both with or without insult. However, it is not a flattering word. according to a site called Jewish Hammer Shiksa is a Yiddish word for "a gentile girl or woman. The word is a distortion of the Hebrew root sheketz, which refers to the flesh of a taboo animal in the Torah. Since intermarriage to non-Jews was taboo, this word applied to them. This is a derogatory term." 'nuff said.

Jack... I guess that if in some circles the 'N' word can be tossed around without offense, then so can the word shiksa. I would want to be friendly with someone before I tried that one out though. :-)

Posted by: David | May 27, 2005 1:28:52 AM

I know this isn't exactly what you are talking about, but my husband bought a hot plate somewhere in CH or BP. About an hour or two after Shabbos, there was a flash and the thing blew a fuse and our chainik went out, too. We had no cholent that Shabbos. The next week, he took it to a friend who has shocked that something like that was being sold in America. It wasn't up to code, whatever code is. It would get so hot, we could practically cook on it, let alone keep stuff warm. It had melted it's own wires.

Some people just think they are above the law. I can't believe I'm saying this being that we are black hatters.

Posted by: Yetta | May 27, 2005 2:12:37 AM

Alice: When it comes from your boyfriend's mom, it's time to get your coat. ;-)

David: What are you doing, blogging at 1:30am?!

Posted by: Tanya | May 27, 2005 2:18:30 AM

You know I've been thinking about the whole not-in-front-of-the-Gentiles-concept (which could be used by any group clearly) and I've still got to come down on the side of don't bother. Be fabulously, gloriously, unabashedly, humanly Jewish, warts and all. Sick people consumed by hate will project it onto the most beautiful, most innocent, most flawed, most guilty- it doesn't matter. Don't cater to them. I totally understand the desire to stay beneath the radar, I just don't think it works. Judaism is too beautiful, warts and all, to be hidden from anyone. That would be a crime! The crime of all crimes.

Tanya, you crack me up. Therefore, you may call me 'shiksa'.

As a Bat Noach, I'm still a shiksa. And as a believer in Judaism, I'm a Jew to anti-Semites. Go figure.

Posted by: Alice | May 27, 2005 4:24:12 AM

You're totally right on this one. Property is property, and it doesn't matter who's infringing. The law says it's illegal, so it's illegal.

Posted by: Isaac B2 | May 27, 2005 6:19:12 AM

OK. Let me retract that whole diamond industry thing. Maybe it leaked into my brain from your last post where I got carried away with card suits.

There should be another compeling reason (as if we need another) for Jews who tend to focus only on religious law to take property rights seriously. There is a talmudic principle of Dina D'Malchuta Dina [Aramaic. Rough translation: the law of the king is law] which basically states that we are religiously obligated to adhere to the secular law of the land (with exceptions, for example if it forces us to violate a religious law). I'd be happy to be corrected by the many commenters here who have a stronger Jewish education. (I think even Tanya is in that category!) But basically, if someone is violating copyright law, they are also violating the rabinnic law of Dina D'Malchuta Dina, and that should bother them. (Of course they're violating the much more important Biblical commandment of You Will Not Steal, but we've already talked about that.)

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 27, 2005 7:01:36 AM

Jack... I guess that if in some circles the 'N' word can be tossed around without offense, then so can the word shiksa. I would want to be friendly with someone before I tried that one out though. :-)

If you say it with a smile you are likely to be received well, but in large part that is because the person you are speaking with doesn't know the difference. Intonation means a lot.

I have a friend whose wife refers to herself as his bitch, but only in certain company. Of course it is always funny to see the poor sap who thinks that because she said it he can to.

Talk about being eviscerated.

Not to totally digress, but this reminds me of high school in which a friend of mine thought that it was funny to refer to himself as the chief momzer. He thought that it was hysterical, but his grandfather almost dropped dead when he heard it.

Language is an interesting thing.

Posted by: Jack | May 27, 2005 9:58:07 AM

Irony of all ironies, this morning's (Friday) Jerusalem Post had a rather scathing article on the Rabbinate here in Israel by a secular (I think) reporter. He mused/ranted that within the observant community there has always been a tendency to place more emphasis on ritual observance rather than on matters of law.

While there are elements of truth to the points he makes, it is precisely the "you believe, we don't, therefore you MUST be held to a higher standard whilst we as non-believers are free to do as we please" attitude that contributes to my discomfort in being the pointing finger in a public debate. I even agree, to some degree, that claiming to be observant does demand being held to a higher standard. I am, however, appalled when those who are actively engaged in denouncing observance use examples of bad behaviour within the observant community to condemn observance as a whole!

Being observant does not make you more or less vulnerable to mistakes, bad judgement, or crime. What it hopefully does, however, is make you more sensitive to these issues, and at the same time, HOPEFULLY, make you desire the ability to act in accordance to the principles and precepts of the law. When individuals who veer from this proscribed path err, it does not infer that the path is inherently flawed, rather that the individuals are.

Back to the reporter -- his claim that the observant community finds it easier to focus on ritual aspects rather than law because ritual tasks are inherently easier to perform -- maybe he has a point. But in making this point in such a condescending way, he brushes away the very real possibility that these "easier" tasks provide a nice on-ramp to the more difficult tasks -- kind of a way of getting up to cruising speed so as to be in a better position to focus on that which does not come so easily to human nature. The manner in which anti-observance-secularists denounce observance itself implies is that there is no higher goal -- the person who erred simply made a sham of looking pious in order to "get-away" with criminal behavior. This is both intellectually dishonest, and unfair. The vast majority of people who prescribe to an observant lifestyle do so with the goal of attaining a HIGHER spiritual level -- it is not simply a smokescreen for hiding criminal behaviour nor for rationalizing less-than-moral acts.

By no means is this an attempt to condone or sweep-away the severity of breaking intellectual property laws -- this is a serious infraction of the law and it must be dealt with both from within and outside our community. Rather, this is a side-bar of why I am sometimes hesitant to be the pointing finger in a public rather than private debate. I do believe that the timing and the format of the discussion can enhance or harm the ability of a message to penetrate, and if our goal is truly to stop bad behavior, we need to find a effective forum in which to do so, not simply create a more highly charged environment to promote more finger-pointing and less action.

I am not so innocent and naive as to think that whispering so that the "goyim" don't hear us will do anything to make the haters like us more or the supporters like us less. Rather, I am more concerned with finding appropriate ways to effect change so the observant community can fulfill more commandments.

It is a delicate balance -- when to speak boldy and when to whisper -- and I think that it is a matter of volume modulation. I know that there have been times, tragic times, in fact, when the weighing in over issues of modesty and "shanda-ism" allowed heinous crimes to be continued, adding yet more victims to a growing list, and I certainly do not wish to be someone whose voice of caution contributes to someone else's pain or loss. By the same token, as we have catalysts who push the envelop in one direction, I do believe that it is necessary to have catalysts encouraging us to simultaneously examine the other angles. Only with a panoramic view of all the extremes, can we be in a position to follow the Rambam's advice to chose the middle road.

To those who are quick to yell "hypocrit!" while diving for cover explaining that they need not be held to "our" standards because they don't believe, I will counter, "Does a lack of belief in a higher spiritual entity absolve you of the responsibility
to act with kindness toward your fellow man? Are you so evolved and omniscient that you have the right to demand others abandon the structures which help them attempt to live peacefully with their fellow man?" And lastly, "If you are so certain that my laws are so irrelevant, why are you so diligent in making sure that every person even periferally associated with my community be held to the highest of these standards? Isn't that more than a touch hypocritical? "

Sorry to be so terribly long winded, and take such a tortuous path in further exploring my initial discomfort with the nature of your post. I am horribly disturbed by the salacious attempt by the media to further the schism between the observant and non-observant communities for political reasons. I truly believe that deep down the various communities want the same things for their children -- they simply disagree on how to attain those goals. And, it is precisely due to the growing schism that I feel that there is a great deal of responsibility associated with these types of discussions -- which isn't to say that I think they shouldn't take place. They need to take place in such a way that condemns bad behavior but still protects the ideals on which the community is based. The principals and laws concerning marit ayin clearly teach us that we have a responsibility to ourselves as individuals and as a community regarding that which can even appear to be in conflict with Torah. I will be honest, I lack the knowledge and/or conviction on how best to achieve this, and as someone who takes much more time looking before leaping.....

Posted by: zahava | May 27, 2005 11:15:52 AM

Yetta... My only advice to you is to not buy the least expensive model of anything that is supposed to move you from place-to-place, come in contact with your children or get hot. I always spend a bit more on these items because of the potential danger involved with the bargain brands.

Tanya... I agree. If a boyfriend's mom calls you a shiksa, she doesn't mean it in a nice way... even if she is smiling. As to why I was awake, I had just gotten back from a L'ag B'Omer bonfire (see Photo Friday).

Alice... Easy for you to say because you hold no ill will towards us. There are graves all over the world filled with Jews who would urge caution if they could still speak. It may be a whole new world and the non-Jews aren't killing us in the streets... but anti-semitism isn't dead and it can still exact a toll against those who speak too freely in public about Jewish foibles.

Isaac B2... Right. And it is also illegal to seed on a stretch of road that is never patrolled by the police. What it comes down to is enforcement. As an observant Jew I am supposed to believe that G-d is always on the proverbial side of the road with his radar gun pointed at me. It makes me mad that people who call themselves religious don't live with that image in mind.

Doctor Bean... I agree with you and have even used that argument with some religious friends who saw no problem with asking me if they could copy some of my music CDs. The problem is partly that the Rabbinic leaders haven't made it a priority, and partly because sociologically copyright infringement seems about as serious to people who do it as removing the tags from pillows and mattresses.

Jack... Nope, intonation didn't help. I just called Zahava 'my bitch' (I even smiled when I said it) and she just went upstairs to get a cast-iron skillet to hit me with. Language sure is interesting.

Zahava... Religious arguments and pressure carry no weight with secular people so I can't address them on this issue (and to a certain extent I wouldn't mind so much if my community behaved better than the secular community at large). People who portray themselves as religious open themselves up to criticism by being visibly religious yet publicly violating religious law. Picture running into a traditionally dress Amish person at a nightclub. This person's attire says one thing but their behavior says another. A secular person would be justified in commenting on the conflict of those things. How much more so an Amish person who became aware of this person's nocturnal wanderings?

Posted by: David | May 27, 2005 11:46:45 AM

Oh my yes. This really, REALLY bugs me too. My DH went so far as calling the producer of a certain Jewish children's music singer to point out that lifting the tunes of a somewhat less famous secular children's music singer could get them into deep financial difficulty if said secular singer would ever get a copy of their tapes. They trotted out the "parody" excuse. Nope. They are not parodies. They just steal the composition (and some of the lyrics) and use them. They do not use a famous song and twist it a little to make it funny. There is a big difference.

At least we tried.

Posted by: proudmommy0f4 | May 27, 2005 3:48:46 PM

ProudMommyof4... I agree... problematic. Many people fall back on the parody loophole and are actually successful with it when challenged legally because some people might find it amusing. I tend to give a pass to some of these people when they are using their music for kiruv (exposing secular kids to their cultural heritage) like Shlock Rock since part of kiruv is sometimes playing the clown to get people's attention. If it sounds like I'm hedging here, it's because I am. This area is a bit fuzzier than simply burning a copy of PhotoShop or copying the latest Emenem CD from your friend's musci collection.

Posted by: David | May 27, 2005 4:05:32 PM

I agree with the overall tenor of the discussion: stealing is wrong, and you shouldn't steal other people's thoughts and creativity any more than you should steal their candlesticks.

But I do think that in discussing copyright law, (and certainly in placing it within a framework of halakha,) things aren't as simple as that.

For example, (and I have NO idea of the copyright law in any of these cases): If I own an eight-track tape of Barry Manilow's Greatest Hits, but I can no longer buy a tape player that will read it, should I have to pay full price for a CD of the same album? Barry's already been paid for his intellectual property; we're now talking about means of delivery. The fact that the music industry arbitarily declared one system of delivery obsolete requires that I need to own duplicate copies of the same intellectual property. (obviously, a more practical issue for many of is the piles of LPs we have sitting around although we no longer own turntables.)

David brings up the question of graphic design; copyright law is very complex here. In most cases, designers are paid for the USE of a design rather than the design itself ... in other words, if you pay me to design a logo for you to use on your stationery, you can't necessarily use it in other situations (posters, Web sites, baseball caps, etc.) without paying me again for those uses. Unless a contract spells out a "total buyout" or similar, then it's not yours to use freely; the default position is that you've only paid for those specific uses.

Now, it's almost completely unenforceable; there's no quicker way for a designer to lose a client than to be difficult about repurposing designs. But my point remains ... ownership of this intellectual property isn't as obvious as one might think.

Software licenses are often classic examples of this; in most cases you don't own the software that you've bought. Instead, you own a license to use the software, which may mean very different rules about you reinstalling it on your newly-purchased machine, or having a second copy of it on your laptop.

There are also specific copyright questions about ownership; personal use; distribution; usage, etc. For instance:
Does making a copy of a CD to use in your car violate personal use?
How about if a friend is in the car with you and listens to it?
Can the friend borrow the (copied) CD?

When I lived in a dorm about twenty years ago, there were TVs for general use in the lobby on several floors. If you hooked up a VCR to the TV and played a movie, you were breaking the law since it was considered public performance.

To reiterate my opening sentence: Stealing is wrong. But copyright law is complex enough that it's not always easy to define stealing in a way that passes a "common-sense" test.

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | May 27, 2005 4:35:44 PM

Andy... You and I talked over some of this at the medura last night. I'd be interested in hearing what others might have to say on any or all of these examples.

Posted by: David | May 27, 2005 4:40:17 PM

As far as making backup copies of cds for personal use, such as in the car, I don't think there's any problem with that. Particularly since CDs are such a fragile medium that they can easily be scratched or cracked, and then your $17 investment is down the tube.

I'm pretty sure Shlock Rock goes out of its way to credit the original authors of the songs it parodies on it's albums. In that sense it's somewhat like doing a cover version.

When you played in wedding bands, did you credit the authors of the songs that you performed? Most artists understand that once their music gets into the public domain, other musicians may decide to perform their songs, and I think that's ok as long as credit is given. Generally, if I play a Diaspora song on stage, I'll say, "this is a song from the DYB" or "this is a Shlock Rock tune".

Posted by: psychotoddler | May 27, 2005 4:51:29 PM

Psychotoddler... I think it is important to differentiate between live performance and recorded medium. A shlock rock concert is no different from a wedding or bar mitzvah in that it is a live performance of both original and covered music. I was talking more about recorded albums and the credit/royalty issues that arise if something is not deemed a parody. If I remember correctly, Lenny was challenged by a couple of song owners and was able to prevail (meaning not pay royalties or damages) by claiming protection under the parody laws.

Posted by: David | May 27, 2005 5:04:34 PM

Jack... Nope, intonation didn't help. I just called Zahava 'my bitch' (I even smiled when I said it) and she just went upstairs to get a cast-iron skillet to hit me with.

That is probably because you were not holding some cold cabbage leaves, or a dozen roses. It is the little details that make it work. ;)

Posted by: Jack | May 27, 2005 5:44:06 PM

If I own an eight-track tape of Barry Manilow's Greatest Hits, but I can no longer buy a tape player that will read it, should I have to pay full price for a CD of the same album?

According to fair-use laws in most countries, yes. Morally -- I'd call downloading MP3s in that case unseemly, but short of wrong.

Does making a copy of a CD to use in your car violate personal use?
How about if a friend is in the car with you and listens to it?
Can the friend borrow the (copied) CD?

Legal, legal, illegal...

Honestly, though, I think these questions are interesting and important, but irrelevant to David's original point. To the degree that copyright and trademark violations in the Jewish world are borderline fair-use cases, so be it, but I think David is correct that flat-out infringement is almost normative.

When it comes from your boyfriend's mom, it's time to get your coat. ;-)

That's an absolute gem!

Posted by: JSinger | May 27, 2005 8:57:32 PM

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