Ethics

For the week ending 27 November 2004 / 14 Kislev 5765

Honor vs. Shame

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: In the school where I teach, a colleague of mine was particularly upset by the misbehavior of one of his pupils and punished him by demoting him to the class of his younger brother. Is this the right thing to do?

Answer: While there is a precedent in the Talmud (Bava Metzia 85a) for motivating a recalcitrant student by offering him honor he does not yet deserve, we do not find a precedent for shaming one as a form of discipline. In fact, we find the opposite. The Sage Rav instructed the great teacher Rabbi Shmuel bar Shilas to patiently allow an inattentive pupil to remain in the classroom in the hope that he would eventually be motivated to fully participate (Bava Batra 21a).

There is also a serious danger that severe embarrassment of a pupil may result in his rejection of the school and what it stands for. The eminent Torah giant Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky of Bnei Brak tells the story of a teacher in the Talmud Torah which he attended as a child who seated his pupils in the classroom according to their diligence. When one of the outstanding pupils once began to slack in his studies, he was placed in the back row, an embarrassment which caused him to abandon not only the school but his faith as well.

Public embarrassment has been equated by our Sages with murder, a warning that we should think twice before using such a harsh action as a means of discipline. Just as a teacher must be careful to refrain from striking a pupil who upsets him, he must also resist the temptation to embarrass him. Your colleague should instead try to come up with imaginative ways of using honor as a source of motivation.

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