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Shabbat Parashat Naso 5773

P'ninat Mishpat: Firing a Teacher Over Pedagogical Disagreement

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

Case: Pedagogical disagreements arose between the plaintiff (=pl), a Jewish Studies teacher in a religious elementary school, and the school’s administration (=def). Def fired pl on this basis, and pl is suing for his salary.


Ruling: The gemara (Bava Batra 21a) brings a machloket whether a Torah educator can be removed from his job because a better teacher was found. The Rosh (ad loc. 2:8) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 245:18) accept the opinion that he can be removed because this possibility pushes teachers to apply themselves maximally. Yet the Rosh rules elsewhere (Shut 104:4), regarding a teacher who was hired for a set amount of time, that he cannot be fired if he did not do anything wrong.

Ohel Yosef (Sechirut 4) distinguishes between someone who was hired for a set time, who cannot be fired during that time, and one who has an open-ended appointment, who can be removed. This distinction is difficult, considering that the reason one can replace a teacher is for the welfare of the students. The following answer of Rav Tena (Piskei Din Rabbaniim, VIII, p. 136) is more likely correct. The discussion in Bava Batra discusses whether the teacher’s position can be taken away but not the monetary outcome. While we rule that he can have his position removed, the Rosh says that he has to be paid until the end of the employment period. Rav Tena said that a school administration can fire a teacher if they are nevertheless able and willing to pay him. Thus, in this case, since def says they want pl out even if they have to pay, they have that right.

In contrast, if the firing is justified because the teacher did an improper job, they should not have to pay either. The gemara (Bava Batra 21b) says that if a teacher is not doing a proper job, he can be fired without warning, like other professions whose incompetence causes irreparable damage.  Rashi says that the damage is in the mistakes he teaches that are hard to unlearn. Tosafot says that it is the time lost from true Torah study. The Rambam (Sechirut 10:7) mentions both reasons. The Ramban (Bava Metzia 109a) raises another point of damage: overly harsh treatment of the students, which can cause hatred of Torah, as experience shows.

While there is likely disagreement whether a given teacher is doing a good job or is causing damage, the administration of each school has a right to make that evaluation. This is even so when the teacher is true to a certain educational approach that cannot be determined to be a wrong one.

The Rama (CM 310:8) says that even in cases where one does not have to warn before dismissal, there must be at least a chazaka (established pattern) of problematic behavior. However, in our case, pl admits that he uses a different approach and, when the matter has been raised, he has asserted he will not change his style. In fact, the very fact that a worker does not submit to the demands of his superior is grounds for dismissal, as acceptance of a certain hierarchy is an implicit condition of employment.

Therefore, def was justified in firing pl and does not have to pay.
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