Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov: “Hey Yaakov, How Much Did You Pay For That Tent?”


privacyBy S. Friedman,

 Boruch Hashem, our communities are very friendly, and we are helpful to our friends and neighbors.  We are thoughtful of their needs and are always willing to be of service.  A frum neighbor is definitely a most wonderful neighbor to have.  However, sometimes the alleged “friendliness” goes a little too far.  What I am referring to is a lack of boundaries.  When certain things are just inappropriate to ask or know about. 

One day recently, I stayed home from work.  I promptly got a text message from someone asking if everything was alright, since he noticed that my car was in front of my house.  Now let me tell you that this individual was honestly concerned, but let’s think about this.  I may have had reasons that I did not want to share, and since it wasn’t a week’s time that I was home,  just one day, no need for concern, thank you very much.

Then there’s the new car I got.  And the new washer/dryer another friend of mine had delivered recently.  How much we spent on it is none of your business.  I’m not writing in defense of my right to let people know that (I’m very good at practicing that right); I’m writing that people shouldn’t ask such questions in the first place.  If you’re in the market to buy a washer/dryer, for instance, and want advice, that’s another story.  I’m talking about such questions as the following:

  • Mother wheeling carriage to another mother: “Fancy stroller! How much did it cost?”
  • Father with 5 girls ages 5 and under to a casual friend: “So, did your son get into that yeshiva? What was your pull? How do you like it?”
  • Guy in shul reaching inside suit jacket of the person he’s saying Gut Shabbos to: “Pish Posh! Such a g’vir; wearing such and such tie!”
  • Friend congratulating another on getting a job: “Mazel tov! I’m so happy for you! So how much are you going to get?”

The above examples may be humorous and old fashioned yentish, but then there are the more hurtful ones, sometimes addressed to the person in question, sometimes from one neighbor to another:

  • “They haven’t been around for awhile; I hope there’s no shalom bayis issues.”
  • “Her last kid is already a year and half [and she isn’t expecting; is everything alright with her?”
  • “Ha, Ha! You must not get along with your in-laws – you’re never away for Shabbos!”

Aside from having the restraint from asking these ridiculous questions, there is also the issue of not showing off your vast knowledge of your friend’s lives.  If you happen to notice that Mr. So-and-So stayed home sick today, don’t mention to his wife, “so how’s your husband feeling?”  If you weren’t told about it, then you just may not be on the need-to=know list.  When people let you know about something on their own, that is the invitation to discuss it, and sometimes a request for help.

Rashi comments on the posuk of “Mah Tovu” that the Yidden had their tents facing away so that they wouldn’t see into their neighbors’ tents, not vice-versa.  Don’t talk about your neighbors flaunting it.  The onus is on each one of us not to look at other’s lives and their belongings, regardless of how flamboyant they may be. 

Another factor, I believe, is also a lack of sensitivity.  How many seemingly innocent questions can be revealed as harmful when put into proper context.  “How come you never do the Shabbos afternoon Pirchei for the boys?” becomes a dagger when the unspoken answer is because, “I don’t have any kids.”

The common courtesy of privacy seems to be not as common anymore.  What a shame.

{S. Freidman/ Newscenter}


  1. I can’t help but agree with the last comment! What is worse is when people continue to pepper you with questions about why you don’t have children yet. I know it is out of genuine concern but at the same time you (hopefully) don’t know the struggle it has been in the home. And then there is the helpfull comment that finally gets thrown out there…”is know….ok…IF NOT there is always adoption!” We know you are trying to help but it is hard enough. We struggle with it. Our parents struggle with it. Our siblings struggle with it. Please try to maintain some boundaries.

  2. Very good, yasher koach!

    This can expanded to address neglect of hilchos shecheinim by some frum people in general. Some people take advantage of their neighbors, e.g. block their neighbor’s driveways, make much noise, run businesses where they shouldn’t be, etc., assuming that their frum neighbors won’t do anything, because ch”v to complain, how can they do ‘mesirah’, loshon hora, etc. So they step all over their neighbors.

    Such serious problems need to be addressed.

  3. thank you so much for something i have been thinking for a long long time..whats a good answer for “how much did it cost”questions?

  4. I agree with being careful as far as asking questions to people who don’t have kids, but as far as the rest of the stuff goes, get over it. It’s not a big deal to tell people how much you spent on your car- they’re just curious and it’s a topic of conversation.

  5. #3: None of your business! Am I the only person who doesn’t have a problem saying something like that? With a smile, but nonetheless…it’s none of your business.

    #4: It’s none of their business. I totally agree with the writer. Why make conversation if you have nothing worthwhile to say? People should think more, talk less.

  6. Very true. I know this is more extreme than most people go, but if someone is engaged and suddenly stops talking about wedding plans, dont ask. Let them mention it first. One never knows whats going on behind closed doors. (may we only hear good things)

    Another question (related issue) is asking by a shidduch why s/hes not married yet. Totally useless and senseless

  7. Great article!

    I might add that you should be careful with your eyes too; a very wise teacher I had in seminary once said that eyes can speak loshon hara and ona’as devorim just as much as the mouth can. Please don’t look your friend up and down while trying to calculate how much that new sheital/hat/suit/tie/pair of shoes must have cost; and PLEASE don’t stare at mid-sections trying to figure out if a b’sha’a tova is in order. It is rude and insensitive, especially for someone having a hard time.

  8. In defense of concerned neighbors, I am touched when they check in to make sure everything is OK when there is a change in routine. Be dan l’af zechus – maybe they are offering to help if someone is home sick!

  9. well said and very true! We should all develop more sensitivity and less nosiness. Just because we are curious doesn’t mean we have to know.