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Shabbat Parashat Vayechi 5772

P'ninat Mishpat: The Firing of a Teacher part I

(condensed from Hemdat Mishpat, rulings of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case:   The plaintiff (=pl) served for two years as a Torah studies teacher. Toward year’s end, the school sent all the teachers letters of dismissal and a note that they should discuss with the principal the possibility of reinstatement for the next year. Pl says that a few weeks later, the principal (=def) told him he could return, but on the last day of school, def told him that he would not be allowed to return. Pl claims that, as a very dedicated and successful teacher, he should continue on staff. Def cites the following complaints about pl’s functioning within the staff: he does not cooperate with the school psychologist; he mills around with the students at inappropriate times, such as during davening and meals; one day, he did not show up; another day, he gave out cookies during teaching time. In general, he does not feel a need to conform to def’s educational directions. On the other hand, pl is a dedicated teacher, with a fair share of educational success, especially regarding connection to students.


Ruling:    The main guideline regarding the rules of employment is that everything follows the local custom (Bava Metzia 83a). According to local regulations, one who did not receive an official, permanent position is considered hired on a trial basis and can be fired even without cause.

Even if pl had a permanent job, the gemara says that Torah studies teachers of children can be removed for improper teaching even without warning (Bava Batra 21b), a halacha that applies to workers who cause irreparable damage to their employers. Regarding a teacher, Rashi says that the issue is that the children will learn mistaken information, and, according to Tosafot, that one cannot make up the time that was wasted from Torah study. There is one proviso: while the teacher does not need to be warned, he must have been guilty of faulty practices on a repeated basis (Rama, Choshen Mishpat 306:8). In this case, both the story of not showing up and that of giving out cookies happened only once. Therefore, neither creates a trend that is grounds for dismissal.

There do seem to be repeated clashes between pl and def regarding educational philosophy, as applied in the school. While no one educational approach has a monopoly on effectiveness, it is a major problem when teachers are not willing to accept the approach that a school’s administration sets for it. As the Minchat Yitzchak (IV, 75; see also Piskei Din Rabbaniim, VIII) says, when a teacher does not respect the administration’s authority, there is a real concern for a certain level of anarchy, which can be damaging. The exception to the rule is when the administration’s approach is clearly inappropriate. In our case, the issue has been raised to pl several times, and he has not addressed it reasonably.

In summary, whether based on the local practice regarding teachers without tenure or based on halachic rules, def is allowed to not rehire pl. (Next week, we will discuss whether pl deserves to be monetarily compensated for the way he was fired.)

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