blog | about | contact | origins | help

Rabbinic Malpractice and the Moral Duty of an Educator

Share Share
In a recent blog post written anonymously for the, a high school student relates his rabbi’s reaction upon discovering that his student was reading a book about Biblical criticism. The rabbi, in front of the boy and a few of his friends, immediately shrieked that he would rather his student be watching pornography than reading this book.
Needless to say, the rabbi quickly realized how foolish what he did was and promptly apologized, but the damage was already done. I am certain that this student will no longer take this rabbi seriously and the entire episode obviously left enough of a mark on the student for him to write an article about it. While many rabbis, even those within the Orthodox world, would surely be quick to disavow this rabbi’s action, the entire episode touches on a deeper point regarding an educator’s role and duty towards his/her students. 
A couple of months ago I wrote an article discussing the frequency of ad-hominem attacks in the Orthodox world when talking about Bible critics. Many Jewish educators are simply not equipped with the relevant background and knowledge to counter many of the claims made by academics and so they resort to attacking the character of the individuals behind the hypothesis Click here to read the original post.
All of this chalks up to what I would consider to be rabbinic malpractice. Rabbis, like many other religious leaders, are in a unique position where their students generally believe everything they say at face value. When a rabbi makes a claim about history or science, many of their students listen and internalize the information under the assumption that the rabbi has a background or extensive knowledge of the field. While this is a horrible assumption by the student, the onus is still on the rabbi to not abuse this position of authority.
My general rule of rabbinic malpractice goes as follows: When an individual is in an educational position, it is unethical for them to teach something to their students which they cannot defend via rational arguments.
Now it is important to understand that by rational arguments I do not mean proof. For instance, a rabbi can say that God exists. Even though It is impossible to prove His existence, there is a rational case to be made for both sides in this scenario. However, if a rabbi makes a concrete historical claim, like that the Biblical flood or the exodus happened in the manner delineated in the Bible, given that there is no rational argument to be made for these things, he has committed rabbinic malpractice. Even when a rabbi claims that the Torah was written by a single Mosaic author, unless he is ready to have an intellectual discussion regarding the germane historical, literary and archaeological sources, he is doing something fundamentally unethical.
Committing rabbinic malpractice can set up a student to be devastated in the future when they realize that their views on the world, which they thought they had a rational basis for believing, are simply false. It is the ultimate intellectual stumbling block that can be placed before a blind man.
If you really think about it, this really isn’t that crazy of a demand. Just as one would consider it to be rabbinic malpractice for a rabbi to give a halachic ruling if he has no textual support or background knowledge in the subject, it should be all the more so when dealing with topics regarding the world at large.
Our society and world are becoming increasingly complex and everyone from politicians, to scientists, to academics are constantly having their views challenged. If a scientist or politician continuously propagates views that are rationally indefensible, they are ridiculed and hopefully eventually fired.
Why should rabbis and other religious educators get a free pass?
Have something to add? We'd love to hear from you. Please comment below to share.
Why is there not more modern resistance to the idea that the Talmud, written by rabbis, carries the same authority as the Torah, given by God at Mt. Sinai? See answers from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis here.
If you have a question about Jewish values that you would like to ask rabbis from multiple denominations, click here to enter your question. We will ask rabbis on our panel for answers and post them. You can also search our repository of over 700 questions and answers about Jewish values.
For more great Jewish content, please subscribe in the right hand column. Once you confirm your subscription, you'll get an email whenever new content is published to the Jewish Values Online blog.

Share Share


Subscribe to Blog via Email

Delivered by FeedBurner

Jewish Values Online

Home | Search For Answers | Ask A Question | About | Contact Us | OriginsUseful Links | Blog | Help | Site Map

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. Jewish Values Online