Zero Tolerance In Our Institutions, By Rabbi Dovid Abenson

rabbi dovid abensonStructure and rules in schools are extremely important, and necessary for the purpose of maintaining order and is conducive to being able to teach in a classroom setting. However, the rules by which we educate our young must be laid down according to the Torah’s perspective. Unfortunately, the Torah system is incorporating more and more rules from Western ideology.

Recently, the terminology of zero tolerance which leads to expulsion, has seeped into our schools,  yeshiva and seminaries as a standard policy.

Where does the terminology of zero tolerance come from?

For the past 20 years, violence, drugs and corruption have escalated in the public school sector, which has forced institutions to take drastic measures to combat this ever growing trend. In 1994, the public school system implemented the policy of zero tolerance, where pre-determined punishment regardless of individual culpability, extenuating circumstances, or history was meted out.  Boruch Hashem, our schools do not breed such lawlessness. Therefore, by our school system adopting this terminology and policy, albeit for lesser infractions, which we see written into the school regulations, it is giving the message to our children that they have the potential for violence and decadence etc. This leads to mistrust and a lack of respect the students have for the institution. Rules are written with the assumption that there is a possibility that such acts could be committed. Therefore, we are exposing our children to the idea that they have the plausibility to enact inappropriate behavior.

On a deeper note, Chazal teach us that when Hashem created the world, He started off with His name “Elokim”- middas hadin ( judgement). Meaning, zero tolerance,- if the laws were not kept, mankind would be punished immediately. But Hashem saw that the world could not exist with zero tolerance and so He used His other name “Yud, kay, vov,kay” – middas rachamim – meaning tolerance. Even if mankind would not be able to keep Hashem’s laws, Hashem would still have mercy on him and wait for him to do teshuva, sending him wake up calls periodically.

As Chazal tell us, we are meant to walk in the ways of Hashem. Just as Hashem is merciful (tolerant) so we should be merciful. The Torah tells us that the only time a person can be removed from an environment, is when he kills someone unintentionally ( b’shogeg). In this case, he is required to run to the Arei Miklat-the city of refuge. He has to stay there until the Kohen Gadol dies. Chazal teach us something unbelievable – who goes with the person who killed b’shogeg? The Rosh HaYeshiva is required to go with him. Meaning the whole yeshiva picks up and goes with him to the Arei Miklat. The question is why? What did the Rosh HaYeshiva do, that he needs to go with him? Chazal tell us that he is the cause of this situation and has to take achrius for it.

Until the third Beis haMikdash has been rebuilt,(speedily in our days),  and the Arei Miklat are once again in our midst, no student should be ever expelled due to zero tolerance.

Rabbi Dovid Abenson is the founder and director, author and lecturer at Shaar HaTalmud, a unique yeshiva based online program, featuring evaluations and remediations, working with students to upgrade skills in Hebrew reading, chumash/rashi and gemara studies, consulting school principals world – wide to improve their ability to discover students who possess under-developed skills. He can be reached at [email protected] or 1-877-HATALMUD (428 2568).


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  1. there was once a masseh where a menahel went to the Chazon Ish zt”l
    He wanted to throw a boy out of yeshiva and asked the Chazon Ish. The Chazon Ish asked the menahel if he ever spoke lashon Hora in his life. He replied he was not as nizar as he should be. Should we throw you out of yeshiva then? The masseh speaks for itself

  2. The gemara in Soito 47.rules against zero tolerence.. It Says..leoilom tehe smohl doiche vimin yekarev..push from left, and bring near from right..gemara says “not like r yehoshua ben prachye who pushe oiso ho-ish with 2 hands…terrible things happened from that push…expelsion is dangerous..price and responsibility can be VERY high for generations…

  3. Stop sticking your heads in the sand! I’m not a principal and wouldn’t want that kind of responsibility on my cheshbon but we have the responsibilty towards ALL children in our charge- when a student is expelled for zero tolerance it means they’re doing some really bad stuff!!! Do you want ur children drawn in too?! Often its in the best interest of the student to find a more suitable placement-why would someone even want their child to remain in a school tht sez honestly-we are not equipped to deal with ur child’s challenges? Kids need to experience real-life consenquences and parents need to find educators willing and able to address their specific needs!

  4. If all the Rebbe’m learn techniques from professional degree professors and physiologist then all our schools will look more like public schools

  5. This article is spot on. The chinuch world has a lot to learn from Rabbi
    Abenson. Rabbi Abenson is a master kriah remidiator who has literally given my daughter a new lease on life . I highly recommend him to any child struggling with kriah

  6. Please! Stop this age old battle of us versus them. That is not such a solid line in the sand. Educated perspectives and applications and rules and procedures are not anti-Torah any more than you wanting name brand products and clothing. What is anti-Torah is allowing and permitting a severe lack of derech eretz and hakoras hakavod in the schools. This tragic fact has resulted in a generation of boys from well-to-do homes who are, technically, moderately illiterate. Its unacceptable. And the very same people who instill in this generation that such skills are not important, are the first ones who are critical of them when they seek employment. We are not infallible. If you know the answers, get on the ball because our boys who come from highly learned grandparents and great grandparents highly skilled in reading and writing in several languages, have their grandkids measurably illiterate. The boys are suffering because of it, and they know it. They dont need anymore geniuses with philosophies and stories. They need hands-on people who truly understand and care and love them enough to hold them to standards when they do wrong and reward them immediately when they do well.

  7. there is room for the term zero tolerance in the yeshiva system. it all dependsnhow you define zero tolerance. For example, there should be zero tolerance for chutzpah. In other words, consequences MUST be meted out, otherwise we are teaching them that it is acceptable not to have detach egrets.

  8. I don’t understand. Rabbi Abenson has many of the techniques we need to help the situation. He has already save hundreds of boys and girls. Places like Gateshead Yeshiva have already sent many boys to him and he has helped them. So why isn’t Lakewood bringing him in?

  9. let me re-iterate the Chazon Ish ztl said you need a bais din of 23 to throw a kid out. Maybe we should have zero tolerance when the staff messes up???!!

  10. Thank you Rabbi Abenson for your wonderful articles. I find them thought provoking and I hope that the Torah world puts some thought into what you are saying!

  11. The “Zero Tolerance” Is reflective of the Yeshiva and the Rabbeim. They should not be tolerated. The problem is most of us won’t stand up (or are afraid to) and help make a change. The Chutzpah did not start TODAY. It began in 1st grade when the child was not up to par with his reading or learning skills. Untrained Rabbeim and Teachers is what there should be Zero Tolerance for. Classrooms with 25 students is something that should not be tolerated.

    The Leaning Tower of Pisa did not begin to lean in the middle of the tower, it started right from the bottom up!

    Yes (as MM writes) often it is in the best interest of our child to find a more suitable place… Moving a child to a new school is extremely traumatic. In fact in a case like this whereby the child’s reading, understanding or enjoyment of learning is not at the level where it should be, when the child is forced to change Yeshivos because of the need of “Special Education” or because he or she fell into the catagory of Zero Tolerance, you just achieved the antithesis of the real solution. You put a band-aid on the broken arm. Yet you stabbed your kid in the heart. The child will live the rest of their life with the trauma and feelings of being a second class citizen. The Chinuch must fit the, needs or the Derech of the child from where he is at.

    The Vaad Hachinuch / Board should monitor this closely and see to it that their staff is educated and has continuing education. Just the same as a Cardiologist must constantly be up on all the latest upgrades in techniques and methodologies, how much more so must the teachers ( or brain surgeons ) who are shaping the future of Klal Yisroel.

    As a youngster in 6th or 7th grade I did something majorly wrong in Yeshivah. I received a tough punishment and a good Mussar schmooze. Yet for many years afterwards I would go to this Rebbe to deliver Mishloach Manos or stop by and visit if I was in the area. Why? Because of The Varemkeit of the Midas Hachesed, the Yemin Mikareves.

    R’ Dovid keep up the good work! Shoot for the stars and lets make a change! Mitzvah Gedolah Lihiyos B’Simchah TOMID!

    my apologies for such a long winded comment…

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