Is it proper to disagree with one’s child’s Rebbe or Morah in front of the child?
In a world where we are struggling to teach our children basic respect for authority, nothing can be worse than arguing with a teacher in front of your child. Sure, you might want to be seen as your child’s hero by swinging to their defense in a particular matter. But while you may win the battle, you will definitely lose the war. Moreover, the rebbe is perceived to be the embodiment of Torah in the eyes of the child. Arguing with him (or a morah) risks damaging basic kavod haTorah as well.
If the matter is a critical issue, then there’s a time and place to deal with it, out of range of the child. If it is not a critical issue, then perhaps it makes sense to let the child learn a little bit of “kabolas ol” rather than running to Mommy or Daddy every time something doesn’t quite go their way. Parents and teachers are shared partners in the education of children. Even if there is meaningful disagreement, don’t let your child be exposed to that. For your sake. For the teacher’s sake. And especially for the child’s sake.
– Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet is a popular Lubavitch lecturer and rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue.
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When I was in high school, the principal called my father to bring a behavioral matter to his attention. The principal described the scenario, then said, “And do you know what your son did?” My father answered, “Yeah, he did such-and-such.” The astonished principal asked, “How did you know?” To which my father responded, “Because that’s what I would have done.”
My father loves telling this story, but I did not learn of this story until years after it transpired. At the time, my father backed the school in his conversations with me. Little did I know that in his discussions with the school, he had my back.
My father was modeling what I came to internalize as proper parental conduct. In order to preserve the child’s respect for the institution and its instructors, the parent must exhibit that respect in the child’s presence.
At the same time, not every situation is alike. My schooling in the U.S. is very different from my kids’ schooling in Israel. From a young age, my kids had several subject teachers through the course of the school day, and the quality of instruction varied greatly. While always counseling respect, we figured out a way to let the kids know that the teacher is misinformed, or that the teacher presented one of several viable alternatives. Sometimes the misinformation is simply part of the curriculum!
In rare cases, such as when a teacher expresses bigoted or racist opinions, we have explicitly and vociferously said that the teacher is simply wrong. Fortunately for us, this was a rare occurrence. Ultimately, the teachers have the students for a year or two, while the parents have their children for life. Kids learn to intuit when their parents have a viewpoint that runs counter to what they’ve been taught, and they even tend to absorb the parents’ viewpoint, not the teacher’s. It is therefore largely unnecessary for parents to disagree vehemently or show disrespect. In the long run, the parents have an overwhelming advantage in shaping their children’s future.
– Rabbi Elli Fischer is a translator, writer, and historian. He edits Rav Eliezer Melamed’s Peninei Halakha in English, cofounded HaMapah, a project to quantify and map rabbinic literature, and is a founding editor of Lehrhaus. Follow him @adderabbi on Twitter or listen to his podcast, “Down the Rabbi Hole.”
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The question revolves on the issue of giving the proper respect for a rebbe or morah. Ostensibly, if a parent would correct their rebbe or morah in front of their child, they would in essence minimize the respect that a child should give to one’s teacher.
On a simple level, if it is only a question of correcting a rebbe or morah on an interpretation of the Torah, then it goes without saying that it should be done sensitively by the parent not in the presence of the child.
However, in today’s world, where some rebbeim and morahs have abused children, whether physically, sexually or embarrassed a child in public or in front of the entire class (actions that in my eyes are despicable), these situations deserve prompt action by the parent precisely in front of the child. This will give the child credibility and closure for such actions. Too many times children are abused by a rebbe or morah and not believed by their parents, when such action demands swift reaction by the parent and in the presence of the child.
The vast majority of our teachers are sensitive and good people who are only concerned with the healthy growth of their students. Unfortunately, the times that we live in demand that we remain on guard to expose the teachers who are abusive and can ultimately be harmful to our children.
– Rabbi Mordechai Weiss lives in Efrat, Israel, and previously served as an elementary and high school principal in New Jersey and Connecticut. He was also the founder and rav of Young Israel of Margate, N.J. His email is email@example.com.
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The Torah directs us to show honor to someone who qualifies as a “zakein” (Vayikra (19:32); the Gemara in Kiddushin (32b) explains that this word describes a person who has acquired wisdom and is thus deserving of such honor. Assuming, then, that a particular rebbe or morah has in fact achieved a significant measure of wisdom (which would seem to be a necessary prerequisite for his or her position as a teacher), it is incumbent upon the student to demonstrate proper honor for that teacher. In ruling on this matter, both the Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 5:1) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 242:1) point out that this obligation requires one to display even greater reverence for one’s teacher than one does for one’s parent.
This latter idea is rooted in two statements of the Mishna, one well-known and one less well-known, at least in terms of the reason behind the requirement. The Mishna in Bava Metzia (33a) states that the teacher is due a higher level of respect because whereas one’s parents are the ones who of course bring him into this world (olam ha-zeh), it is one’s teacher who brings him into the world to come (olam ha-ba) by giving him the Torah knowledge and other tools which will enable him to merit the ultimate rewards that characterize olam ha-ba. The Mishna in Kerisos (28a), however, explains that honoring a teacher takes precedence over honoring a parent because the parent is himself obligated to honor the teacher and the teacher is thus on a higher plane. According to the simple understanding of this Mishna, a parent is obliged to show respect to his or her child’s teacher, and not just to his or her own teachers.
There would appear to be (at least) two explanations for this ostensibly unusual requirement. One is that the parents have to set the proper example for the children. Given that a student must, by Torah law, as presented above, respect his teacher, the parent must respect the teacher as well, because if the child sees his parent disrespecting the teacher, he or she will conclude that such behavior is perfectly acceptable. A second approach is that the teacher is in effect a partner with the parent in the education and the upbringing of the child in accordance with the values of the Torah. Strictly speaking, it is the parent whose obligation it is to teach the child; the teacher is thus an agent of the parent and it thus behooves the parent to show proper respect for the teacher who is helping him fulfill his requirement.
Either way, is should be clear that among the many things that a parent has to teach his or her child, one is to show appropriate honor for someone who has taught him Torah. It is noteworthy that Rav Ovadia Yosef (Shu”t Yechaveh Da’as 3:72) rules clearly that one must honor a woman who is knowledgeable in Torah and that women students must likewise respect their teachers. In light of the above, it would definitely not be proper for a teacher to disagree with a child’s rebbe or morah in a way that is blatantly disrespectful and certainly not in front of the child.
Of course, no teacher is infallible and it is sometimes recommended and even necessary for a parent to have frank and even forceful discussions with a child’s rebbe or morah. There is, moreover, often room for legitimate disagreement on important issues and it is important for a child to know that his parent can be an advocate on his behalf. But any such deliberations between parents and teachers should generally not be held in the presence of the child, especially one who may not comprehend all of the situation’s nuances, and hence may draw erroneous conclusions, and they should always be carried out in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation, for both parties share the same goal of raising another generation of Jews who are committed to Torah and mitzvos.
– Rabbi Michael Taubes has been involved in Jewish education, formal as well as informal, for over 40 years, serving both in the classroom and in various administrative posts. He is presently a Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS and Yeshiva University High School for Boys. In addition, he is the spiritual leader of Congregation Zichron Mordechai in Teaneck, N.J.