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October 2, 2014 / 8 Tishri, 5775
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Firing Line


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Mrs. Simon had been teaching for seven years at a girls’ elementary school. The school had expanded rapidly during the previous decade as the local Jewish community grew. Each grade boasted four parallel classes. However, a competing school opened two years ago, drawing away a significant number of students. Support from donors also dwindled, due to the economic climate. Rumors began spreading through the teachers’ room that layoffs were inevitable.

Within two months, official word came from the board that “restructuring” was needed. Each grade would be consolidated into three classes instead of four so that one teacher would have to be released from each grade.

Shortly afterward, Mrs. Simon was summoned to the principal’s office for a meeting. “We appreciate your teaching and your dedication to the students,” began the principal. “You have served well during your seven years with us. However, as you know, the school needs to restructure for the coming year in order to remain viable. As such, we are giving you notice that you are being released for the coming school year.”

Mrs. Simon took the notice with great difficulty; she very much needed the job. Her husband worked only part time, and the tuition for their children amounted to a small fortune. Despite her credentials, it would not be easy to find another job.

When Mrs. Simon returned home, she shared the difficult news with her husband. “Do you think there’s any way we can convince the school to keep me on?”

“Isn’t my uncle Bernie one of the school’s major supporters?” asked her husband. “Perhaps he could put pressure on the board and hint that if you are released, he might consider shifting his support elsewhere.”

“You’re right!” said Mrs. Simon. “He has also dealt a lot with the principal. Perhaps he can convince them to release a different teacher.”

Mr. Simon called his uncle. “What’s a good word?” asked Bernie.

“Tough times,” replied Mr. Simon, with a sigh. “My wife was just given notice that she’s being released from the school next year. They need to fire a teacher in each grade.”

“Is there any way I can help?” asked Bernie.

“I was hoping,” said Mr. Simon, “that you might be able to use your influence to convince the board and the principal not to release her.”

“Is there a chance they would keep her without firing someone else?” asked Bernie.

“I don’t think so,” replied Mr. Simon. “It’s pretty clear that they’re going to release a teacher from each grade. But it could be someone else, not her.”

“I’d like to help you, but I’m not sure that this is ethical,” replied Bernie. “You’re in a tough state, but if they keep your wife, another teacher will suffer from your gain.”

“What’s not ethical?” replied Mr. Simon. “If they fire my wife, another teacher will gain from our suffering! What’s the difference?”

“Before I get involved with this,” replied Bernie, “I need to consult with Rabbi Dayan.”

“If you need to – OK,” said Mr. Simon, “but it seems to me fair concern for your relatives.”

Bernie called Rabbi Dayan. “My nephew’s wife is facing layoff from her school,” said Bernie. “Can I try to influence the board to keep her on, if it will cause them to fire someone else?”

“Is the issue still under discussion,” asked Rabbi Dayan, “or was a final decision made to release her?”

“She was already given notice,” replied Bernie. “What difference does that make?”

“A person is allowed to protect himself from potential future damage, even if it will thereby fall on someone else,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “However, once the damage is already present, a person cannot shift it to someone else.” (Rama C.M. 388:2)

“Interesting,” commented Bernie. “What is that based on?”

“The Talmud Yerushalmi [B.K. 3:1] rules that if a person sees an approaching flood threatening his field, he can fence it in, even though the water will swamp his neighbor instead,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “However, once the water has already entered his field, he may not divert it to his neighbor. Similarly, if the king needs to quarter soldiers in people’s houses, before the soldiers arrive a person can utilize his influence or pay the officials to avoid having them quartered with him, but once the soldiers have arrived he cannot in this way arrange that they be transferred to another house.” (Nimukei Yosef B.B. 5a-b; Shach 163:18)

“I gather the same rationale applies here,” said Bernie.

“Exactly,” concluded Rabbi Dayan. “Until a final decision is made, each teacher can use whatever influence or connections she has to avoid being fired. However, once a final decision was made to lay off Mrs. Simon, she cannot rescue her own financial position by transferring the damage to another teacher.” (See Pischei Choshen, Nezikin 12:25-27)

About the Author: Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to subscribe@businesshalacha.com. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail ask@businesshalacha.com.


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