Ethics

For the week ending 1 September 2012 / 13 Elul 5772

Honor vs. Shame

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: A pupil who was guilty of disturbing his class was demoted, as punishment, to a lower class in which he has a younger brother. Is this form of discipline acceptable?

Answer: Embarrassing someone publicly is equated by our Talmudic Sages with murder in the gravity of the harm caused to the victim. No teacher or principal would consider murdering a pupil regardless of the problem he poses. In the same manner, extreme caution must be exercised in choosing the manner in which a pupil is disciplined. There are cases mentioned in the Talmud, and experiences of people in our own day, which testify to the terrible effects of shaming someone, ranging from abandonment of society to abandonment of life itself.

The flip side of this issue is the utilization of honor to encourage a reluctant pupil to try harder. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 85a) relates that a particularly rebellious young man was placed by Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi under the tutelage of a great teacher of Torah and was granted the title of "Rabbi". At one point the youngster expressed a desire to leave his studies and return to his sinful ways. "You have been granted wisdom," his teacher reminded him, "and a golden crown of honor will accompany your title of rabbi and you still speak of returning to your old shameful ways!"

This appeal to a pupil’s desire for honor had the desired effect, and the problematic youngster developed into a distinguished sage. Every capable teacher similarly has a number of ways in which he can motivate pupils with honor rather than shame and thus achieve the result that every educator desires.

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