Section: Halacha   Category: Tshuvos
Rav Moshe Shternbuch - Cheirem Of Rabbeinu Gershon On Marriage & Mail, Is It Still Valid?

Rav Shternbuch was asked (3:388) about a case where a person was owed a large some of money by someone who absconded from the country. Somehow a letter sent to the debtor came into the possession of the creditor, who felt that the contents of the letter would be help him in the Din Torah he was preparing against his opponent. He wanted to know if there was a cheirem of Rabbeinu Gershon to open it.

Rav Shternbuch answered that if a person is on the right side of the halacha he can take the law into his own hands when he is facing a financial loss, even to the point of striking his friend. Hitting someone also has a Cheirem against it, yet since the halacha is that he need not worry about hitting, says Rav Shternbuch, he surely need not worry about opening a letter. However cautions Rav Shternbuch, this is not a heter for people to go around hitting each other, but rather they must take their case before three Talmidei Chachomim and get their opinion before taking any action.

With regard to the expiration of this cheirem, Rav Shternbuch says that Rabbeinu Gershon only enacted his takanos until the end of the fifth millennium. The prohibitions regarding marriage and divorce were clearly carried forward but we don't find anywhere that the prohibition of opening mail was extended. To this he reasons that since the marriage takanos prohibited something that was permissible, Rabbeinu Gershon only made a takana for his generation where he saw it was necessary. However opening someone else's mail is assur l'halacha. Rabbeinu Gershon's innovation was to add a cheirem because people were lax. Therefore he had no problem enacting it forever. However it is also possible to assume that this cheirem expired and was never reinstated.

Either way, says Rav Shternbuch opening the mail would not violate any issur or cheirem, as long as Talmidei Chachomim approve of your action.

Important Note: We try to convey the Tshuva to the best of our ability. We admit that our understanding may not be accurate. One should learn the tshuva to verify the accuracy of our interpretation. Please also understand that this Tshuva may not be the final word on this topic. One should consult a Rav before drawing any conclusions.