The Halacha of the Internet

Tractate Kombutra


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Rabbi Tarfon of Bet She'an said of Rabbi Shlomo ben Yechezkel of Tiverya: It is said that in those days Rabbi Shlomo ben Yechezkel of Tiverya designed a web site for the mother of his father, Sarah the daughter of Pinchas, who begat Yechezkel, who begat Rabbi Shlomo ben Yechezkel of Tiverya. Thus Rabbi Shlomo ben Yechezkel of Tiverya performed the mitzvah of web site design.

Rabbi Michal ben Elkanah, who only had one eye, said: But is it not also said that in those days there was no web, only gopher?

Rabbi Shmaryahu of Hevron said: It is true, but as it is written: "A web browser may also use the gopher protocol, in addition to the HTTP protocol."

Rabbi Eliezer asked: Why does it specifically mention that the web browser may also use the gopher protocol, when it is written elsewhere that a web browser may use any protocol? Because the gopher protocol is especially meritorious, since it enables support of legacy systems.

One time a poor man came into the home of Rabbi Shmaryahu of Hevron and asked for two megabytes of disk space on the web site of Rabbi Shmaryahu of Hevron. Rabbi Shmaryahu of Hevron refused the man, but instead gave him a personal web server for his own use. At this point Rabbi Yehudah ben Yerachmiel asked Rabbi Shmaryahu of Hevron: Why did you refuse this man's request, but instead give him a personal web server for his own use? Rabbi Shmaryahu of Hevron replied: It [the Mishnah] teaches: "When a poor man comes into your home and asks for disk space on your web site, first ascertain whether he is going to use it for his own purpose or for the purpose of idol worship. If he is going to use it for his own purpose, grant him the space he asks, unless it exceeds twenty ephraot, in which case you may refer him to a local Internet service provider, for as it is written: It is not upon you to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it. If he is going to use it for the purpose of idol worship, then do not give him the space, but instead rebuke him, that he might see the error of his ways and refrain from idol worship."

Rabbi Gideon of Sh'chem disagreed, saying: It [the Mishnah] also teaches: "When a poor man requests space on an FTP server, you must grant it without asking why he is going to use it." Why would the Mishnah impose requirements on a web server but not an FTP server? Rabbi Shmaryahu of Hevron said: Rabbi Eliezer said: Why does it specifically mention that the web browser may also use the gopher protocol, when it is written elsewhere that a web browser may use any protocol? Because the gopher protocol is especially meritorious, since it enables support of legacy systems. Similarly, the FTP protocol is especially meritorious. Therefore, it is unfair to deny a poor man access to FTP, whereas it is sometimes permitted to refrain from giving a poor man access to HTTP, because without HTTP he can still serve files using FTP, but without FTP he will be unable to put his files on the server, since the means for saving files over HTTP are unreliable.

CreditsRon Fein 

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