The Buck Stops Here, Part I

by Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro

We've all heard the problem.

We've read about it in Anglo-Jewish magazines. We've heard about it on the radio. We've listened to our neighbors, friends, and acquaintances sound off about it.

We've heard of problem, but not the solution.

The problem is Yeshiva bochurim and maidlach who are expelled from their schools or not accepted into them, according to one side of the story, for no good reason other than to maintain the elite reputation of the school.

The reason this problem is so aggravating is that after a child is asked to leave a school, he sometimes finds it impossible to get into another school. Once the word gets out that he is "someone else's refuse", principals are reluctant to take him in. Again, according to one side of the story, in order to maintain the school's reputation for only accepting the choicest students that Klall Yisroel has to offer.

This is why there are a number of former Yeshiva or Bais Yaakov students who are now - this is not an exaggeration so be prepared for a shock - in public school. Or in no school at all. I know some of them personally, and they are from our community.

Rav Yitzchok Hutner ZTL once said that a Yeshiva education nowadays is no longer the luxury that it used to be. A Yeshiva used to be like the mishkan, he said, where people would go to serve Hashem with special fervor and commitment. Now a Yeshiva is like Noach's teivah, where you need to live in order to survive. The Steipler Rav ZTL expressed a similar sentiment in his sefer Bircas Peretz (Vayetze).

The truth is, even Yeshivas cannot always guarantee safe haven from the mabul. How many children have been ruined by a bad friend who he met in Yeshiva? And a prominent Torah authority cautions parents: "Know who are the secular teachers in the Torah-schools of your children, and insist they be decent observant Jews; very many pupils have been corrupted by the secular teachers in the Mesivtos" (Rabbi Avigdor Miller shlita, Sanctuary of the Jewish Home). But to send a child out of the Yeshiva into the streets is like making him walk the plank.

And so, admitting and dismissing a child from Yeshiva nowadays is nothing less than dinei nefashos (life and death matters), and must be treated as such.

No Jew has the right to oust children from a Yeshiva without a legitimate reason. They cannot say "This is my Yeshiva. It is a private institution. I can do what I want." There are Halachos in Shulchan Aruch (YD Talmud Torah) describing the way rebbeim must act toward their students. A rebbi cannot say "This is the way I teach, and if you don't like it you can leave." That is why Rav Moshe Feinstein ZTL has a number of teshuvos regarding the rights of certain students to be in the Yeshiva (YD 3:71,77 ; OH 2:73, 4:26 ). Each case has to be judged individually, but I have heard from a number of menahelim in the name of Rav Moshe Feinstein ZTL and Rav Aharon Kotler ZTL that if a child is corrupting his peers, he must be expelled to protect the innocent peers, but if he is just corrupt "on his own" without damaging others, he must remain in the Yeshiva. There are exceptions, but that is the general rule.

A Rosh Yeshiva told me that when he was in Lakewood, there was a bochur who did not put on tefillin for months. Nevertheless, Rav Aharon ZTL did not want to throw him out of the Yeshiva. This Rosh Yeshiva did not tell me who that student was, but he said that today he is a magid shiur somewhere in Yerushalayim.

Both the directive to dismiss a student who poses a danger to others, as well as the responsibility to retain a corrupt but "safe" student are based on the Torah principle of godol hamachtio yoser min hahorgo, which means "Worse is he who causes another to sin, than a murderer." If someone is causing others to sin, he is perceived to be a rodef (attempted murderer), and the protection of his intended victims receive priority over the safety of the rodef. We may even kill the rodef to save the life of the intended victim.

And so, Rabeinu Yehuda ben HaRosh ruled (Zichron Yehuda 17) that zonos who were causing people to sin should be bodily removed from the community, despite the inevitable danger to their lives. Godol hamachtio yoser min hahorgo was his reasoning. The same holds true for students in a Yeshiva.

However, the Halachah also states that if you could have saved the rodef's intended victim by any means other than slaying the rodef, you are guilty of murder. This, too, applies to students in a Yeshiva. Expelling a student because you feel he is a "danger" to others is a last-resort tactic. Principals and deans of Yeshivas are surgeons dealing with the very lives of their young charges. How many taaneisim should a human being go through, how much teshuva should he do, how much tehillim should he say before he can sleep at night knowing that the decision he is charged with making - mi yichyeh umi yamus - "Who will live and who will die" - is the correct one?

The power to make or break a child; the power of life and death for a yiddishe neshomo - that is the power every mechaneh has in his hands. And with great power comes great responsibility.

A word of caution: Do not cast blanket aspersions on our great Torah institutions because of a limited number of instances. Most menahelim I know are of objectivie and ehrlich, and would never unfairly dismiss a child from Yeshiva. They will bend over backwards for every student in their care. They deserve a medal, because they are constantly faced with tremendous nisyonos. And we need more like them.

What We Can Do

The problem of children being unfairly forced into public school or the streets can only exist if there is no accountability on the part of the school to an outside authority. As frum Jews, we all want to follow Daas Torah, but sometimes a vested interest can cause a person to see things less objectively than he should. A session with an objective Torah authority who hears both sides of the story is be a tremendous assistance for anyone - parent, rebbi, menahel, or businessman - who wants to do the right thing and is honest enough to realize that when the Torah says shochad yaaver einei pkchim (Bribery blinds the eyes of the wise), it applies to him, too. No good Jew should object to running his policies through the gauntlet of Daas Gedoley Torah.

However, it is not always sufficient for a parent or a menahel to just "ask a Sheailah." Sometimes the parent and the menahel will see the facts so differently that when they ask their individual shealos to their individual Rabbonim, you would not recognize that they were talking about the same case. Each side may accuse the other, rightly or wrongly, of having a negios - the parent's interest in the welfare of their child and the menhel's interest in maintaining his school's elite status.

Therefore, just as a rebbi can bring a school to a din Torah when he feels he was unfairly dismissed from his job, a parent should be able to bring a school to a din Torah when they feel their child was unfairly dismissed from his studies. Our community has the ability to establish specially designated, perhaps even ad-hoc batei din of objective and capable authorities, where Daas Torah will decide each case on its own merits. This is why it can work:

If someone should refuse to cooperate because they insist they are a "private enterprise", and not accountable to the Torah authorities of the community it services, then the community has a right to know this. Let the community, from whom the Yeshiva gets their funding, know that this Yeshiva declares itself not to be a community institution, but a private enterprise; serving the needs not of the community but the desires of its own administration; not accountable to the gedolim of the community but rather to themselves. This is the Yeshiva's own policy. A community has the right to know the hashkofos of the schools they are supporting. If this is the school's shitah, they should not be ashamed of it.

What You Can Do

Until the time that such a system is established, however, parents who feel their children have been unfairly forced into the streets are on their own. First, consult with your Torah authority, and try to be as objective as possible. If it is decided that the proper course of action is to get your child back into the school, you must muster all your strength and start take action. If speaking to the menahel, or the Rosh Yeshiva doesn't work, beg. Go over everybody's head to he highest authority in the school, and plead with him. It may feel degrading, but if you really believe your child's future is at stake, it will not matter. If that does not work, find a teacher, perhaps, who agrees with you, and ask him to speak to the administration on your child's behalf. There are teachers who will fight hard for their students if they feel it is justified. Pull all the strings in the school that you can. Call in any favors that people owe you. This is your child you are fighting for. See if you know someone on the Board of Directors or a big supporter of the school. Ask your family Rav (your Torah authority who advised you to fight to keep your son in the school) to speak to the school.

I have also found that a political connection or an offer of full tuition can sometimes curiously inspire Barditcherever-like midos on the part of a school, inducing them to be dan lekaf zechus a student who was previously considered incorrigible.

One last note: I cannot overemphasize that it would be a crime to miscunstrue the above information and mistakenly cunclude that all or even most Yeshivos are forcing Jewish children into the streets. Yeshivos are the lifeblood of the Torah world. They are kodosh. Without them, all our children would chas v'sholom be swept away by the mabul. However, there are parents who must deal with such unfortunate cases, even one of which is way too many.

To be Continued