Q. All the kids at my high school, when they have doctor's appointments and the like, stay out a little longer for lunch or ice cream. On a "once in a while" basis, is it a real problem ethically? Are we "robbing" our parents, who pay a hefty annual sum to send us to a Jewish school, expecting us to always attend? DR, Houston
A. Cutting class occasionally is not inherently unethical. After all, you're not getting paid by the hour. Judaism considers any girl over the age of 12 and any boy over the age of 13 as an adult who is responsible for her or his own decisions.
At the same time, playing hooky can involve a variety
of serious ethical problems. One problem is that after cutting class, the teenager faces
powerful temptations to misbehave. If he is caught, he is tempted to lie;
due to missed class time, he may be tempted to copy homework or cheat on an
exam. Jewish tradition warns us against putting our values to the test in this
Skipping class can also show disrespect for teachers and for the school as a whole. The last thing you want is for your teachers to become demoralized, or for school discipline to fall apart. Another severe problem is that playing hooky may also incite other students to follow your example, against their better judgment and their best interest.
If your school has an honor code, you must abide by it. An honor code is an obligation, which a student takes upon himself.
Mature teenagers are beginning to take on adult responsibility. On the one hand, this means that they can begin to establish their own priorities, which are not necessarily identical to the expectations others have of them. On the other hand, it means that they should themselves be able to esteem the immense importance of a good education and of contributing to a positive attitude towards the institutions to which they belong and the norms which apply there. A student who carefully takes account of all of these considerations will conclude that skipping class is seldom a good idea.
It goes without saying that you should never miss Torah classes, as this would constitute neglect of Torah study.
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Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir is Research Director of the Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology. Rabbi Dr. Meir received his PhD in Economics from MIT, and previously studied at Harvard. He subsequently studied at various Israeli yeshivot, and received his ordination from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Prior to moving to Israel, he worked at the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration. Rabbi Dr. Meir is also a Senior Lecturer in Economics at the Jerusalem College of Technology and has published several articles on the subjects of modern business and economics and Jewish law. He is also the author of Meaning in Mitzvot, an OU.ORG feature.
The Jewish Ethicist
presents some general principles of Jewish law and ethics. For specific
questions and direct application, please consult a qualified Rabbi.
To view previous issues of The Jewish Ethicist, visit www.jewishethicist.com.