Not doing so constitutes the same behavior as the students of Rabbi Akiva, who "did not behave with respect toward each other," a behavior whose biblical punishment was death by the creator (a plague).
Rabbi Rosen added that in today's day and age, it is proper also to address text messages, beeper pages and e-mails, but that this merely reflects a higher "level of adherence."
In an article for his institution's weekly, Shabbat b'Shivto (Sabbath in his tribe), to be published Saturday,
Rosen wrote that: "Although this behavior, constant attentiveness, is not a legal requisite, and it is possible to escape from annoying communications, nonetheless, someone who receives a message in an voicemail inbox that instructs others to 'please leave a message' must behave respectfully and respond."
"It is excellent and good manners if he also responds to text messages and e-mails, in which the person leaving a message initiated this action without the receiver willingly having left an open 'box', especially if the message contains specific questions or requests," the rabbi specified.
"Additionally, if one should answer any caller whom he knows personally, even if he did not leave a precise request, he is among the high," said Rosen, adding that, "those who respond to all messages, anonymous as they may be, is most righteous.
"There is a mitzvah (religious duty) to 'answer, respond, grant attention," Rosen wrote, while admitting to and castigating himself for sometimes slipping up in answering all of his messages.
To justify his interpretation, Rabbi Rosen turned to the story of the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva, who died from a plague because they did not behave respectfully toward each other, despite being great scholars.
"The wise son will ask: 'What is the deal? So they 'didn't behave respectfully.' They didn't hurt someone, loot, slander, rob or destroy.' And the wicked son will add: 'So what if they didn't behave respectfully? Where's your sense of proportionality? And were laws broken? Does impolite behavior warrant the death penalty?" Rosen queried hypothetically before explaining.
According to the rabbi, while in today's culture not returning a message is not a particularly severe behavior, the punishment remains the same because "sometimes it's possible to hurt your wife, family, neighbor, colleague or someone else by ignoring them, by not speaking, by turning a blind eye or a deaf ear."
In conclusion, Rosen noted that, in the age of electronic technology, in which "people don't spontaneously knock on each other's doors or have random stairwell conversations with friends," it is important to improve communication using the technology at hand.