Tuesday, June 02, 2020

I recently walked by a local yeshiva and was intentionally taunted by a student who shouted something personal in my direction. The student’s derisive tone made his intent clear: to embarrass me in public. This wasn’t the only time a yeshiva student publicly taunted and embarrassed me. When a rabbi personally witnessed another such chutzpadik incident, he described it with the words of the Talmud: “He who publicly shames his neighbor is as though he shed blood” (Bava Metzia 58b).

It would be bad enough if incidents of disrespect and chutzpah were limited to our streets. But they’re not. Chutzpadik behaviors regularly take place in the classrooms, hallways and playgrounds of our yeshivot. A non-Jewish middle school English teacher at a yeshiva, burnt out by the chutzpah of his students, once confided in me, a fellow teacher, saying, “I would rather beg in the streets than come back to this place next year.” A number of teachers who have taught in both yeshivot and public schools have remarked that the behavior of yeshiva students is worse than that of their public school peers. And most sadly of all, children sometimes speak with chutzpah to their own parents inside their homes.

Chutzpah and lack of derech eretz among Jewish youth—middle school and high school, boys and girls—seem to have pervaded our community.

What caused this problem?

Is there a solution?

If so, what is it?

The prophet Michah (6:8) asserted that one of the things the Lord requires of a person is to “walk humbly with your God.” Can a person do so while exhibiting chutzpah?

I think I once learned that derech eretz kadma laTorah (respectfulness supersedes the study of Torah). Was it just my imagination?

Name Withheld on Request

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