An Imaginary Interview

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Holy and Secular – Don’t expect the following interview to ever really appear in print. This imaginary talk is a combination of many discussions that I have had with a wide variety of dozens of teachers. It is not meant to reflect the opinion of the educational system or the official position of any formal body. It is dedicated in love and appreciation to tens of thousands of teachers who perform their tasks day in and day out, overcoming every conceivable type of hardship.

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Interviewer: Why don’t you deliver the goods? Why are there so many problems with religious education?

Teacher: That is an excellent question that is always on my mind. In general it is clear that we have much to learn and that we should look for ways to progress. But it is important to remember that our failure rate is not any higher than that of the hospital near us. Just as a physician cannot cure every patient of his, so a teacher cannot ever offer a perfect education. The human soul is even more complex than the human body. If we do not have control over the human body, how can we expect to control the spirit?

Interviewer: So that means that there is nothing that can be done?

Teacher: There is much that can be done, but there is no guarantee of success. By the way, while we are on the subject, I need your help for something.

Interviewer: My help??

Teacher: One of the most difficult problems facing us today is the lack of authority. In order to have a power of authority, what we need is charisma, leadership, and other similar traits. But we also need to be appreciated at a social level. If parents have no respect for a teacher, why should the pupils show him any appreciation? If the surroundings show scorn for the teachers, why should the pupils have any fear of them? We need to be appreciated by society so that our pupils will also have respect for us. If the parents see us as not much more than a babysitter, what can they hope to receive in return?

You must have heard about the new law detailing the rights of the students. Today a pupil has no obligations, only rights. He arrives in school knowing that it is his right to receive a, and b, and c. From his point of view, the student is not expected to feel any obligation. The teacher is not an authoritative figure but rather an instrument supplying the student with his rights. And thus the schools have become an institution for upgraded babysitting.

Interviewer: And what can you say about the general release from all standards that is becoming rampant in the educational system?

Teacher: Some of the pupils feel that every punishment by a teacher must be approved by the parents, and that if the pupils cry enough the parents will show the teachers who is boss. There are many parents whose first reaction to having their child punished is a phone call to the supervisors. In this situation, it is very difficult to maintain a proper system.

Interviewer: Really? Is that what you want, to base the entire educational system on the use of punishment?

Teacher: No, not at all. I do not want to use punishment, I want to have deterrence. The way things are now, the students know that it is almost impossible to punish them. They have nothing to fear. I am not asking to be given a whip in order to use it, I need a whip so that the pupil will know that it exists and that it may in principle be used. The power of deterrence is more important than any punishment I could possibly give.

There is no such thing as a serious organization that does not have a power of authority. Even in your newspaper you are subjected to specific and clear guidelines. Can you imagine an organization where a person can do whatever he wants, and in the worst possible case he will be sent away for three days, no more? The educational system is the only one where it is almost impossible to expel a person who is not suitable. Even an organization of adults would not be able to last very long under these conditions.

Interviewer: But what about love, explanations, identification?

Teacher: Everything must be based on true warmth and love. Even when a punishment is necessary it must be done with love and care. But where will a teacher who is occupied all day long with power struggles find the energy to provide love and warmth? When the teachers will no longer have to spit blood in order to achieve a feeling of authority, they will find it much easier to provide warmth to their students.

Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute ( Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat BeShabbato please write to

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.