Beit Midrash

  • Jewish Laws and Thoughts
  • The Laws of Ben Adam LeChavero
To dedicate this lesson

Copy Right?


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

"I don’t understand this!" Rabbi Shimon groaned to the stack of tests on the table in front of him.
Rabbi Yosef looked up from the photocopier. "What’s wrong?"
"It’s been a few weeks, now, that I’ve noticed that some test papers are nearly identical. I’m sure some kids are copying!" moaned Rabbi Shimon. "And I just can’t figure out who’s copying and who’s being copied!"
There was a sudden silence in the room. Rabbi Shimon’s problem was a little heavier than the usual teachers’ room chitchat.
Suddenly, Rabbi Zohar spoke. "I have an idea, Rabbi Shimon. But please don’t ask me any questions until after I’ve found out who’s cheating."
The next day, Rabbi Shimon’s students were surprised to see Rabbi Zohar walk into their classroom. "Boys. From now on, I will be coming into your classroom once a week, and administering a test, based on what you’ve learned with Rabbi Shimon." Rabbi Zohar paused. "I’m warning you, though, that I’m very strict about cheating. Anyone caught cheating will be disqualified from taking the matriculation exam for this class."
The following week, Rabbi Zohar came into the classroom, stack of tests in hand. He handed them out to the students, sat down at the teacher’s desk, and… took out a newspaper! The boys in the class tried to hold themselves back from snickering. After all that talk about how strict he was about cheating, how exactly was he planning on catching anyone?!
At the end of the class, Rabbi Zohar called out "Benny, Avi, Itzik, please come stand next to my desk." The three boys looked surprised as they walked toward the front of the room. "Boys, I’m very disappointed. I explicitly informed all of you of the severe consequences of cheating in my class. Therefore, the three of you have earned a grade of 0 for this test, and you are disqualified from taking the matriculation exam.
The boys were too stunned to argue. How could Rabbi Zohar have possibly caught them cheating? He was sitting reading a newspaper the entire time!
The scene repeated itself the following week. Rabbi Zohar was incredible! How could he possibly know who cheated on the test, without even looking! It didn’t take long for speculation about Rabbi Zohar’s detective abilities to become the talk of the school.
That evening, the phone rang in Rabbi Zohar’s house. It was the principal on the phone. After exchanging pleasantries, the principal got to the point. "Okay, Rabbi Zohar, what’s your secret?"
"It’s really not that complicated," Rabbi Shimon responded. "The newspaper I was "reading" was just a cover-up. There were holes in the paper, and I was looking through them, at the class, the whole time!"
"You’re brilliant!" the principal laughed. "If you don’t mind, I’ll pass the idea along to other principals in the area, to help other schools with their cheating problems."
Was Rabbi Zohar allowed to pretend that he wasn’t looking at the class, during the test? It seems that he caused some boys to cheat who might not have, otherwise, so it seems that he violated "lifnei iver lo titen michshol" (lit. "don’t place a stumbling block before a blind person," which refers to the prohibition of intentionally causing another person to sin or make a bad decision.)
Answer of Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl:
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt"l, in his book of responsa entitled Minchat Shlomo, discusses whether or not it is permissible to bait a thief in order to catch him in the act. He debates whether or not it is considered lifnei iver lo titen michshol, in that the would-be thief is being intentionally tempted to commit theft. Rabbi Auerbach leaves the question unresolved.
In our case, it was clearly permissible for Rabbi Zohar to pretend to not be monitoring the class during the test, in order to determine which students were cheating. This is because it is an element of the responsibility of a teacher to ascertain in any of the students are cheating. Similarly, it is permitted for a police officer to entrap a potential thief. This does not constitute lifnei iver because it is part of the police officer’s job.
In summary: It was permitted for Rabbi Zohar to pretend not to watch the students during the test, in order to catch potential cheaters.
(Thank you to Zohar Toami, of Ginot Shomron, who told us this story about himself.)

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