Should you download that pirated movie on your computer? The Torah says no. If you're surprised that the Torah has ANYTHING to say about video piracy or other modern high tech issues, it's because you're not reading beyond the surface text. In Parshah Shof'tim we're instructed, "You shall not move your countryman's landmarks, set up by previous generations, in the property that will be allotted to you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess." (Deut. 19:14) The rabbis read this expansively - one should not appropriate the property of others for yourself. This isn't merely theft. One could rationalize downloading an illegal movie on the grounds that the owner still has possession of his property. Yet by moving those landmarks - or downloading the movie - you're encroaching on something that rightfully belongs to others and depriving them of the ability to earn lawful income. The Torah continues to speak to us because even if the specific issues seem foreign to the text the principles involved remain relevant to us today.
Daniel M. Kimmel
Joined: October 2, 2007
Daniel M. Kimmel is a Boston area film critic, lecturer and author. He does these weekly mini-lessons for the Mishkan Tefila Brotherhood's newsletter. You are free to use them for similar purposes.