David came to school with his new smartphone. “Look what I got yesterday!” he announced to his friends.
“Good morning,” the rebbi, Rabbi Bloch, said as he entered class. David slid the phone under his Gemara, and watched some video clips during shiur. Rabbi Bloch noticed that David was not focused and began walking toward him. David quickly slipped the phone under his desk.
The same thing happened the following day, but this time Rabbi Bloch saw the phone. “David, please stay after shiur,” he quietly said. “I’d like to talk to you.”
Rabbi Bloch explained that the yeshiva placed a premium on the moral and spiritual development of the students, in addition to maintaining a high educational level. “The yeshiva does not allow bringing smartphones to school because they often distract in class and sometimes display inappropriate photos and movies,” he concluded. “I know you are excited about your new phone, but you cannot bring it to yeshiva.”
David was careful for a month, but afterward the phone drifted back to school. Rabbi Bloch again spoke with David and insisted that he stop bringing it. He sent a letter to David’s parents noting that the new phone was disturbing their son’s education and harming the class environment. “If the issue persists, the school will consider disciplinary actions, including confiscating the phone,” he ended.
Two weeks later, Rabbi Bloch noticed David huddled with some friends in the corner of the schoolyard. He was dismayed to see the phone again. As he came closer, he caught a glimpse of an inappropriate movie being played. He knocked the phone out of David’s hand and it crashed against the wall.
David bent down to pick up his phone, and saw that the screen was shattered. Rabbi Bloch took David to the principal. They discussed the severity of what transpired and the detrimental effect on David and his friends.
When they finished talking, David said: “I acknowledge that I was wrong, but Rabbi Bloch still had no right to break my phone. He owes me for the repair.”
“I do not,” Rabbi Bloch countered. “I needed to stop you and your friends from watching that movie immediately. You were warned about the phone, and it was an important educational lesson for you and your classmates.”
“We will deal with the educational aspect of the incident,” the principal said, “but you should consult Rabbi Dayan about the monetary damage.”
Rabbi Dayan heard the story from David and Rabbi Bloch: “If it was necessary to confiscate or break the phone – either to prevent David and the other students from watching these films or as an appropriate disciplinary measure – Rav Bloch is exempt,” he said. “However, if it was not necessary, and the educational goal could have been accomplished better in another manner, he could be liable.”
“There are two exempting factors to consider,” Rabbi Dayan explained. “First, Rama writes that one who has educational custody for another may restrain him from violating a prohibition even through physical means. Certainly, then, he is permitted to restrain him through monetary means. Thus, if it was necessary to break or confiscate David’s phone to prevent him from watching inappropriate movies, Rabbi Bloch is exempt.” (C.M. 421:13)
“What is the second factor?” Rabbi Bloch and David asked.
“An educator is expected to administer appropriate disciplinary measures to foster the spiritual and moral development of his charges,” Rabbi Dayan replied. “However, if he punishes in an excessive manner he can be held liable. The determination of ‘appropriate’ or ‘excessive’ discipline varies, and depends on beis din’s evaluation of the circumstances. Potential factors include whether the educator warned the student sufficiently, what alternative disciplinary options were available, and the educational policy and authority of the yeshiva.” (Y.D. 245:10; C.M. 8:5; Pischei Teshuvah C.M. 424:4; Aruch Hashulchan 424:17)