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Thursday, 10 March 2016

The Problem with Plagiarism

Daf Yomi Gittin 79


One of the greatest threats to academic integrity is the practice of plagiarism.  So much is premised on the trust that an individual’s work is indeed their own.  But what exactly is the problem with plagiarism?  Some teachers call it stealing.  But is it really stealing?  When you steal something, you take it away from the original owner; but when you plagiarise, most of the time the original owner wouldn’t even know about it.  So what’s so wrong with the ‘art’ of plagiarism?

Mishnah: If he dated the gett (bill of divorce) according to the reign of the improper kingdom, and she remarried on the basis of that gett, she must divorce both husbands.
Gemara: What is the improper kingdom?  The Roman Empire.  Why was it called the improper kingdom?  Because they do not possess their own script or language.
Rashi explains: They took these from another nation.
Tosfos comments: Rabbeinu Elchanan taught: Why are they an improper nation?  Even though their script and language are not their own, people still envy them.

The Gemara calls the Romans an improper kingdom, because they ‘took’, or plagiarised, their script and language.  Historians indeed point to Indo-European migrants who brought the Latin language to the area of Rome, and the same would appear to go for the alphabet that we use in English and many European languages today.  What’s striking to Tosfos is the envy people have for the Romans, despite their plagiarism.  Why would people envy a nation that was built on false pretenses?   

The reason people envy those who engage in plagiarism is actually the whole problem with plagiarism itself.   Plagiarism isn’t about stealing; obviously, nobody would envy a thief!   The problem with a plagiariser is that they avoid the hard work it truly takes to accomplish great things in this world. 

We were placed on this Earth to work hard and achieve progress in every facet of human development – spiritual, physical, psychological, scientific, artistic, musical, and so on.  Some people work hard and accomplish great achievements.  And then there are others who cut corners by lifting the work of others and claiming it as their own.  All of a sudden, they’re an overnight success and the envy of all who see them.  That’s the problem with plagiarism, says Tosfos: you create the appearance that you’ve accomplished great things, and that it was easy to get there.

Hashem didn’t send you down here for a vacation.  He wants you to work hard in this world.  Don’t ever be fooled by people who claim to be instant overnight successes.  Our Sages teach, “If a person says, ‘I strove and did not accomplish, do not believe him.  If he say, ‘I did not strive, but I accomplished,’ do not believe him.  If, however, he says, ‘I strove and accomplished,’ believe him.” 

If you see someone who appears to have reached their goals without much effort, run the other way!  They are not a good role model for you!  Great accomplishments require great efforts!  You can achieve your every dream, so long as you are prepared to work hard to get there, whether those are spiritual or material dreams!


In life, there are no shortcuts.  Successful people work hard to accomplish their goals and dreams.  May you never stop striving and merit reaching your every dream!