When You Kick A Student Out, Where Do You Think He Will Go?


school-desksBy Rabbi Eliyahu Safran

Walking into Bnos Yisroel in Baltimore, one sees a sign that reads, “Teaching Students, not Subjects.”  When the Baltimore Jewish Times reported on the school, they found that the school did much more than simply pay lip service to a sentiment many educators would be quick to say they support.  Rabbi Amster noted that at Bnos, that sense “permeates everything that we do…”

There are those who might argue that such a “soft” sentiment is fine for a girls yeshiva, but for boys?  For boys, one needs a stronger hand.

I would argue that in this regard there should be no difference between a girls and boys yeshiva.  Caring for students is the only way to educate all our young people.  Fortunately, despite the disturbing trend to hew an ever harder line with any student who does not strictly conform to a yeshiva’s academic and behavior standards, I am not alone in my belief that we do greater harm by our harsh rigidity than by treating each of our students as a precious treasure.

Every Jewish educator knows, without question, what we teach is vital.  Fewer seem to appreciate that who we teach is at least as much of a gift.

It would be understandable for the most preeminent Gadol to emphasize what we teach when he meets with mechanchim, rebbeim – educators – at the beginning of the new school year.  He undoubtedly wants to emphasize the educational issues and concerns that will confront his teachers -the core curriculum that is to be taught, the pace at which classes must proceed, what is to be accomplished during a z’man – but that was not the focus of the Gaon Rav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman’s recent talk with educators of yeshivot ketanot as the school year began.

The Rav pleaded with the educators to keep in mind two thoughts as the new school year begins.  One, to continually relate to each and every student as a neshama, a pure and precious soul.  Two, to stop expelling students from yeshivas.

What kind of message is this to deliver to educators about to embark on a new school year?

Rav Shteinman continued in his talk by referring to Bava Kamma 62a, as he does in his recently published volume, “Leading with Love”.   The Talmudic passage is concerned with a man giving a woman a gold coin to hold but telling her, “Be careful with it for it is silver.”

Rava rules that, should she damage the coin, she would have to reimburse the man the full worth of the gold because the owner will rightly claim that, regardless of the actual worth of the coin, she should not have damaged it.  However, if the woman was merely negligent with the coin, she would be responsible only for the value of the silver, correctly claiming that she had only agreed to be responsible for a silver coin (netirusa d’dahava lo kabilsi alai) and not a gold one.

How are we to understand this passage?  To put the passage in more contemporary terms, suppose a man gave his friend a locked box to safeguard, telling him that it contained $10,000.  Such a sum is not to be taken lightly.  The friend would certainly guard it with great vigilance.  But what if the locked box did not contain $10,000 but rather $100,000?

What if the friend negligently left the box on the back seat of a taxi?  What would he say when he learned that he was responsible not for $10,000 but for $100,000?  He would surely protest that he had never agreed to be responsible for such a princely sum.  He would admit that $10,000 is a sum worthy of vigilance.  But $100,000?  That is another matter entirely.

“Had I known that there was $100,000 in the box, I’d have been even more vigilant!”

The Rav would find his claim that he is not liable for the additional $90,000 to be more than legitimate.  But what does all this have to do with our discussion of teachers and students?  Rav Shteinman suggests that, in a similar way, every single teacher, rebbi, principal of either boys or girls (equally so!) must fully understand exactly what is being entrusted to his safekeeping.

If a teacher thinks that his task is merely “to teach” – d’varim peshutim, a simple matter – that it is no great thing to teach, that “anybody can do that” he must immediately be set straight.   Children are neshamos; they are netirusa d’dahava.  They are more precious than gold.  Do not for a minute think that they are merely silver.  They are the most valuable possession of all klal Yisrael.

If a teacher is not able to take on the responsibility of safeguarding such treasure, he shouldn’t!  Before setting foot in a classroom, each and every teacher must be clear about the responsibility he are taking on, and the treasure that is being placed in his safekeeping.  He must know that to treat any child with less than netirusa d’dahava is negligence.

If each and every teacher is to safeguard his students with such care, how much more negligent is it to expel a student from yeshiva?  How much more negligent is it to treat such a soul in such a way that he or she will then “leave the fold”, remove his or herself from our community?

That teacher should not think for a minute that he will not be asked in the world to come, “Why did this young man or young woman leave the community?  Why is she no longer frum?  Why is he on drugs?”

What will that teacher answer?  What can he answer?

And in the gaping silence, he will be told, “if this was your own son, would you have thrown him out?  For that is what you should have thought at the time.  This is like your son, your son!

“Responsibility for children is just as for gold, not silver.  No!  Even more than gold!”

It is not enough to presume that because a child is attending yeshiva that he or she is safeguarded, that his or her home is filled with yiddishkeit or that they are treated with love and respect.  There is no guarantee.  That is why each talmid must be watched closely and with care.  The rebbi must be mindful of his charges; he must be mindful of everything.  More importantly, he must teach with love and compassion, with a pleasant and joyous countenance.  The way to treat students is with compassion and mercy not rigidity and anger.

When I met with the faculties I had the privilege to lead, I always shared with them a simple truth:  We all make mistakes.  To err is human.  And in almost every profession and circumstance, it is possible to make a mistake and then correct it.  We almost always have the chance to begin anew.  Except when it comes to a child or student we turned off by our negligence, inattention, or abuse!

It is on our heshbon to make the lessons sweet for our students; it is on our heshbon to safeguard our students.  We are not, after all, teaching stuff.  By transmitting the truths and jewels we teach, we are burnishing the links in a glorious chain.  We are touching souls, precious Jewish souls.

Without those souls, for whom is the knowledge worthwhile?

When we extinguish the flame of learning in a young soul, it is not easily – if ever – relit.  There very well may be no second chance.

There is no more important message a faculty can receive than to nurture that flame in every single student!  And yet, even when Rav Shteinman addressed his audience of hundreds of mechanchim – educators I can imagine that there were those who listened impassively, all the while thinking to themselves, “Okay, we get it about all the love, compassion, sensitivity, personalization blah, blah, blah.   It’s easy to talk about all that in the abstract.  What about those of us in the classroom?  What about us, the ones who have to deal with students who misbehave or act out?

“What about the student who is immersed in the Internet?” a rebbi asked the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Shteinman.

Such musings have merit, but it is astonishing to me how much of the ills of society are now blamed on the Internet.  Of course the Internet poses many dangers and challenges.  But, were there no problems before the Internet?

So, how might Rav Shteinman have responded to any of the possible questions leading to the question of what to do with such students?  Would he have quickly and resolutely determined, “Of course throw out the student immersed in Internet!  Of course throw out the student who acts out!”

Would he have considered that student to be no more than garbage needing to be removed from the building as expeditiously as possible?

Or would he have asked, like the recently deceased Rav Ovadya Yosef, the highly respected Gaon and leader of Sefardic Jewry, “Whom are you throwing out? A rock?  Some accumulated trash?”

Rav Ovadya Yosef ZT’L knew the challenge of teaching in a classroom.  When he confronted a rowdy, disruptive or uncooperative student in a class, he did not view the student as “the enemy” but rather as the unique being God intended.  He embraced the uniqueness of each of his students.  What an upside-down world we have created when Rav Ovadya’s approach strikes us as refreshing and encouraging… instead of the norm!

Rav Yosef was passionate in his defense of such students.  “Don’t throw them out.  We are dealing with nefoshos!  This is dinei nefoshos.  Our Rabbonim only addressed dinei nefoshos when there was a Sanhedrin, 23 chachamim. This is dinei nefoshos. You throw him out and what will be with him then?  You know what will be?  Do you accept responsibility for what he will become?”

“Therefore, you must love him and smother him with love, bnei Yisrael whose future is to become gedolei Yisrael. To bring them closer with sweet words and this is how we bring them into the Torah fold.”

In truth, Rav Shteinman similarly responded to the Internet question. Each student is to be considered on an individual basis; for each student there is a need for a shailas chochom; each situation demands discussion and analysis with a Chochom.

The most important thing, he emphasized, was to not demean or demoralize (not to be me’zalzel ) any talmid. Never to dismiss any talmid as hopeless, as “nu, meila.”

In his response, Rav Shteinman showed himself to be a true and absolute gadol – a visionary who could see clearly and respond to the demands of the times.  He provided the wisdom of a zakein.

Anyone can treat a difficult or misbehaving student as garbage.  Anyone can just throw him out.  But it takes a teacher to transform him into the gedolim and nashim tzidkanios that Rav Shteinman envisions.  “Who can know what great tzaddikim and tzidkaniyos and what great talmidei chachamim can emerge from the children sitting right in front of the mechanech!

If a mechanech does not realize what treasures sit directly before him, chas v’shalom, he may claim that he only agreed to watch “silver coins.”  But, in fact, he has before him the purest gold.  He has before him neshamos kedoshos!

Rav Shteinman was determined that his listeners would truly understand the importance of never dismissing, ignoring, or overlooking any student.  “Let me give you another example,” he told them, “you know that Rav Chaim Volozhin established the yeshiva in Volozhin, which existed for exactly 70 years.  The yeshiva had roshei yeshiva, Rav Chaim Volozhiner, and then his son Rav Yitzchok, and then a son in law of Rav Chaim, and another son in law, and then the Netziv.”  He sighed.  Of the seventy years, the Netziv led it for fifty.  “In other words, Yeshivas Volozhin was all the Netziv.

“Yes, the Netziv who had not been particularly well thought of (mi’tchila chashvu alav sh’hu lo kol kach) turned out to be very special.  Because of the Netziv, all of Volozhin, for 50 years existed and thrived.”

Give heed.  Teach with your heart.  Love you students.  You never know, the next Netziv may very well be sitting before you in your classroom!

Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran is an educator, author and lecturer. He can be reached at Safrane@ou.org.

{Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Now is time to help the few girls in certain places who are still considered REJECTS & LOSERS by the high schools there. Power plays while we stand by as the ‘blood of our brothers are shed”.

    Stop the harrassment of families and allow ever young lady to be educated in community schools.

  2. It’s sad that many schools are like factories. They have their mold, and they try to cram everyone into it.

    One note about the quote regarding the Netziv: it doesn’t seem to make sense. the Yeshiva of Volozhin was founded in 1803 by R’ Chaim zt”l. The Netziv wasn’t born until 1816. The Netziv actually became the assistant to R’ Eliezer Fried zt”l when R’ Fried was Rosh Yeshiva, in 1849. When R’ Fried passed away in 1854, the Netziv became Rosh Yeshiva, together with the Beis HaLevi (who left in 1865 to go to Slutsk). The yeshiva was closed by the Netziv in 1892.

    So the yeshiva existed for 89 years, not 70. The Netziv was Rosh Yeshiva for 38 years, not 50.

  3. Sorry Rabbi Safran.
    It’s very easy to say not to ever expel a child, but you’ll be the first not to send your own kids to the school that has that policy. Some kids are not fit to sit in a school and their parents need to find them better alternatives.

    Educators are under enough pressure as it is from the difficult kids and parents that they have to deal with on a daily basis and they can’t be expected to maintain a nonsensical no-expulsion policy. It’s a surefire way to make sure that a school will go under.

  4. WOW… Make sure this gets to all teachers, rebbeim and moros.. This is a MUST reading for anyone who has anything to do with children of all ages.
    Kudos to Matzav for posting.

  5. I wish the teachers read this excellent piece on chinuch!
    I was quite shocked when I realized that the younger teachers in my daughter’s school – one of the reknowned schools – establish their authority by ruling with an iron fist.
    the attitude of being mevaze the girls so that the would change their behavior appears to me to be contrary to Torah hashkofo.

  6. “It’s sad that many schools are like factories. They have their mold, and they try to cram everyone into it.”

    What’s even sadder is that many parents are so quick to blame hardworking mechanchim and “the system” and fail to appreciate all the good that they do or lay the blame at their own feet.

    “the attitude of being mevaze the girls so that the would change their behavior appears to me to be contrary to Torah hashkofo.”

    The attitude of widespread slandering of hardworking mechanchos is also contrary to torah hashkofa and halachah!

  7. the point is to draw the necessary results from what Rabbi Safran writes….make the needed changes in chinuch attitudes and goals so we can all see the better results and products.

  8. What about when you don’t kick out a kid and he infects many others? I know of so many cases where compassion to save one kid hurt so many others.

  9. #8: Yes, there are parents who wrongly blame the system. But the fact remains that many times, the system is at fault.

    I grew up in a chareidi family, and went to chareidi yeshivos. I didn’t fit the mold, and I had a hard time, ultimately going OTD. I later came back, but with the Modern Orthodox hashkafah.

  10. There can’t be only perfect kids/students the schools and yeshivas have to work with these kids and not knock and reject them. So many kids fall away if they’re not accepted.

  11. Torah is not a plug and play experience. One must enjoy a full life to attain the perfection of Torah life in as many ways as possible. If you kick a child out of your yeshiva because he is either different, different or perhaps unruly; you probably do not either have the skills, coping strategies, educational plan or blessings yourself to deal with such an exceptionally trust requiring and challenging child.

    Ultimately, you can either exclude the lesser developed mind or the unruly because you are afraid it will complicate YOUR lesson plan. But how do you know this is NOT HASHEM’S lesson plan.

    Ultimately you have perhaps scarred a child, a family and even probably a community based on your own inaction, insolvency, fear of humiliation or perhaps simply your own incessant desire to move at YOUR pace and not HASHEM’S guided pace.

    Who is the King?

  12. Rabbi Safran should be invited to all communities and share these thoughts… He is a powerful speaker…Let’s all make a difference with this burning issues.

  13. Too late.

    My son was recently kicked out of his cheder when we returned from Uman. They said it was because he went to Uman and the cheder is NOT Breslov. When asked about two other boys from the cheder that I saw in Uman, the Mashgiach squirmed and accused me of disobeying the rules of the cheder. When I reminded the Mashchiach that the fathers of the other two boys signed papers last year that they would never go to Uman again, he squirmed again. I never signed such a paper or was directed not to go to Uman RH 5774.

    Then I asked: Why did you kick my son out of cheder, and not the others? i answered for the mashgiach:

    Simple sinas chinam of a ben gair, ben giyores.

  14. Such a thought provoking and beautifully written piece. Boruch Hashem this way of thinking is becoming more commonplace. Teacher training workshops currently push teachers in this direction… Now it is up to the mechanchim. Our gedolim have spoken!

  15. The sentiments are absolutely right – except they don’t consider the other children in the class. Sometimes, tragically, there is a child in a class who makes other children unable to learn, or makes them feel insecure or worse. Sometimes the school has to consider its responsibility to those other children and their parents.