In the most infamous scene of Borat 2, Sacha Baron Cohen lures Rudy Giuliani into a compromising situation with his character’s daughter, Tutar (played by Maria Bakalova). While the parties dispute the outcome in real life, the scene begs the question of the permissibility of sting operations.
What does the Torah say about knowingly leading another to sin?
The Torah declares: “You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind,” a warning against any activity that might trip up some unsuspecting individual, literally or figuratively.
Is there any exception for a set-up, organised to determine whether the person will make the right decision and repent of their previous misdemeanours?
Egyptian viceroy Joseph recognises his sustenance-seeking brothers, and decides to play God. In an effort to test whether they had learnt their lesson and repented from their improper conduct towards him, he snatches their brother Benjamin.
Sure enough, they pass the test, placing their own lives on the line, rather than abandoning their brother.
Rema (YD334) rules that a Beth Din may excommunicate a repeat offender in order to push them to mend their ways, even though doing so runs the risk of further alienating them from Jewish practice.
Was Baron Cohen permitted to lie about his identity if he had a higher purpose in mind?
Our sages permit fibbing for the sake of shalom. God tells Abraham
a white lie about Sarah’s questioning of his ability to father children at an old age.
Indeed, in certain instances, misbehaviour is condoned for the sake of the greater good, such as when Moses smashes the Tablets.
Undoubtedly, these notions and situations are highly sensitive and run the risk of misapplication and abuse.
At the end of the day, Baron Cohen was motivated not by moral suasion but by ratings.
Who knows how many unsuspecting victims Borat ‘tested’ who didn’t fall for his shenanigans and missed out on the final cut?
- Rabbi Daniel Friedman serves Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue
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