“No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks…”

It’s an old childhood rhyme that reflects every child’s longing for the freedom of summer. It is also an excellent example of the negative attitude of children in our modern western civilization to education, and, more importantly, to teachers. School is often presented as a “bother” that children have to bear, making teachers the “bad-guy.”

The Jewish attitude toward education and teachers, however, is the exact opposite. Judaism places great importance on showing absolute respect to one’s teachers. As with parents, it is considered a mitzvah to stand when a teacher enters a room. In fact, the sages question whether one should recline at the Passover seder in the presence of one’s teacher, lest it show disrespect for the teacher (Pesachim 108a).

“Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba stated in the name of Rabbi Yochanan. ‘A man who prevents his student from serving him [showing him proper honor] it is as if he deprives him of [an act of] kindness…’ Rabbi Nachman ben Isaac said: ‘He also deprives him of the fear of Heaven’” (Ketuvot 96a). Many modern teachers struggle to find a balance between gaining the children’s respect and being liked by their students. The sages of the Talmud, however, were quite clear that a teacher who relinquishes his/her honor is actually doing a disservice to the students.

In the United States, the first full week of May is recognized as “National Teacher Appreciation Week.” Teaching the children in our lives to appreciate their teachers (year round) is the first step in helping our children understand the important Jewish value of honoring one’s teacher.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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