Question: A theft took place in the class that I teach, and I suspect that some of my pupils are aware of the identity of the thief. I am tempted to demand of those who have this information to share it with me but I am afraid that this may encourage them to become malicious talebearers. What is the right thing to do?
Answer: Your concern about developing the wrong traits in your pupils is shared by one of the great halachic authorities of the previous generation. Since you wish to protect the other pupils from becoming victims of theft and to also help rehabilitate the young thief, you must resort to other methods to uncover this thief.
Various suggestions have been made, ranging from controversial entrapment to the imaginative insisting on each pupil’s declaring before the Aron Hakodesh that he was not guilty of the theft. Perhaps we can learn a lesson in detective work from what the Talmud (Bava Metzia 24a) tells us of the Sage Mar Zutra Chasida.
A silver goblet was stolen from the home of this Sage’s host and the suspicion was that the thief was one of the young men studying in the yeshiva. One day this Sage noticed a student drying his freshly washed hands on the coat of another student. He immediately suspected that a person with such disregard for someone else’s property was probably the thief. Subsequent interrogation of the suspect vindicated his suspicion.
A teacher who keeps a sharp eye open on the casual behavior of his pupils will usually discover which of them has the tendency to steal from his classmates.