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Beyond The Letter Of The Law
‘He May Be Replaced By One Who Teaches Faster’
(Baba Basra 21a)



Our daf records a very relevant dispute between Rava and R. Dimi. Rava maintains that a rebbe of young children may not be replaced by another rebbe who teaches at a faster pace. Although the replacement is more qualified, we fear he may slacken off. Rashi (s.v. “dilma asi l’isra’shuli”) explains that he will be overconfident, assuming he is so superior – after all, he replaced another teacher – that he will have no fear of being replaced himself. As a result, he will take his teaching duties lightly.

R. Dimi disagrees and opines that we may replace a teacher with one who teaches at a faster pace. He argues that we need not worry that he will slacken off since jealousy between scholars serves to increase wisdom. Rashi (s.v. “kol sheken”) explains that since there is competition between scholars, he will always be mindful of the teacher he replaced, who will be eager to correct any of his mistakes even to the degree of embarrassing him before the townsfolk.


Job Security/Performance

The Shita Mekubetzet (ad loc.) explains that the dispute between Rava and R. Dimi centers around the question of whether job security enhances or weakens job performance. Rava reasons that where there is no job security, a teacher might not even expend minimal effort since he assumes his efforts will not be appreciated for he is constantly subject to summary dismissal.

R. Dimi argues, to the contrary, that a teacher subject to dismissal at any time will be ever vigilant for fear of being replaced.


The Halacha

The halacha follows R. Dimi that a teacher can be replaced with another one who teaches at a faster pace. However, there is a dispute as to how to understand this halacha.

The Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh De’ah 245:19) explains that a teacher can be replaced even mid-term, as a teacher is no different than any other worker who can be replaced at any time – just as the worker has the right to quit at any time. He notes that neither the employer nor the employee is allowed to indenture the other – as this would violate the rule of “avadai hem, ve’lo avadim l’avadim – they are my servants and not servants to servants.”

The Radvaz, however, rules that a teacher can only be replaced at the end of the school term. He apparently maintains that the dispute in the Gemara only concerns replacing a teacher at the end of the school term.


The Advocate

The gaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Iggros Moshe, vol. I:75-77) takes a stricter view, ruling that a teacher may not be dismissed even at the end of the school term without good cause, even if his performance is only minimally satisfactory. We find a similar view in Even Ha’azel (Hilchos Sechirus), where the gaon Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, Kletzer rosh yeshiva, ruled that the hanhala were duty-bound to go beyond the letter of the law in dealing with their employees.

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.