In October 1992, Joanne Hunter began an unusual service. From her Kitchener office she ran a company called “Stale Mates.” (As best I can tell, the company is no longer in business.) The service promised to determine whether the partners of suspicious lovers would be tempted by a 33-year-old blonde, namely, Ms. Hunter. At $150 per “investigation,” Ms. Hunter claimed to be doing very well, conducting more than forty investigations within the first few months of operation.
Ms. Hunter generally describes her clients as middle-aged women who suspect their husbands no longer feel bound by their marital relationship. Some fear that unfaithful spouses might infect them with sexually transmitted diseases. So Hunter finds a way to proposition the suspected spouses and then report the results. Ms. Hunter has been quoted by the Canadian Press Service as stating, “I haven’t had one man who has said, ‘No thank you, I’m married.’ Not one.”
While it may say more about men in Kitchener more than twenty-five years ago than it says about the sanctity of marriage in general, this story points to a method of apprehending suspected criminals that has become more popular of late yet is disallowed by Jewish law. Entrapment, as a strategy for bringing criminals to justice, is forbidden in Judaism (except for cases of idolatry). As Rabbi Abbahu teaches in the name of the great third century sage Rabbi Yohanan: “To place witnesses behind a wall so they they may confirm any admission made privately is of no value” (Jerusalem Talmud Sanhedrin 3:8). Of course the only way in which the hidden observers could be sure to hear any admission at all is for the suspected criminal to be goaded into making a confession by some accomplice. This is entrapment.
To the rabbis, the prohibition of entrapment is derived from the Torah (Leviticus 19:11). When the Torah commands us to refrain from dealing deceitfully or falsely with each other, entrapment is included. Putting a person into a contrived situation is not an accurate or fair way of judging if the suspect is deceitful. Any information gained from contrived circumstances is valueless. It says nothing about how a person would act on his or her own. On the other hand, it does say much about the character of those who would concoct a deceitful strategy. They are motivated by distrust, suspicion, and doubt; hardly admirable qualities at all. It is for these reasons that the Torah would have us find alternative means of detection.