Feb 10, 2011

Interesting Psak: Female Teachers

Rav Avraham Yosef, Chief Rabbi of Holon, has a great halacha program on the radio, Radio Kol Chai. Rav Avraham Yosef is very clear, very smart and has a very broad base of knowledge of both sefardic and ashkenazic psak. I dont get to listen to his show often anymore, but when I used to have the opportunity, I found his show very clear and educational.

In his show today Rav Yosef discussed having female teachers teach young boys. Specifically, until what age can a female teacher teach young boys.

Rav Yosef was discussing the halacha, which he says is that a woman can teach a boy until the age of 9, and teaching boys older than that is pritzus and is prohibited. Rav Yosef said that "nowadays we unfortunately hear about the craziness of women to try to be equal to men. This is corrupt, it is the ideology of Pharoah who tried to equate the men and the women. There is an ezras nashim and that is the only place of the women."

That led to further discussion, with a caller asking if a women can teach torah reading to a bar mitzvah boy, or to even older boys who are already bar mitzvah.

Rav Yosef's response was to give a more general answer that a woman can only teach boys in a situation where there is no possibility of yichud with the parents of the kids, and only until 3rd grade. not any older than 3rd grade, being that 3rd grade is generally 9 years old. 4th grade and up is pritzus for a woman to teach as the boys already have an understanding. It is completely prohibited for a woman to teach boys in 4th grade and up.

Rav Yosef then said that he is aware of a yeshiva high school that has employed a female teacher. He says it is  shameful that they dont understand even the most minimal thing that this is a clear and simple halacha.

In regards to the specific question, Rav Yosef said that with all due respect to the woman that she knows how to teach the cantillation and the reading nicely, but it is completely prohibited for her to do so. There is not a God-fearing person who would allow her to teach a boy privately. There is the prohibition of yichud, which applies to a boy from 9 and up. This is an issur d'oraisa and people therefore have to be completely makpid about it.

We have recently heard of the craziness of women that try to be like men, with equality. This is a distortion, this is the ideology of Pharoah who equated men and women. Yet this is wrong. Hashem created us differently, and separately. A woman has her tools and her abilities, and she should not invade into areas that are not hers, to teach a bar mitzvah boy, this is a very serious transgression. (source: Kikar)

It seems to me that the issur of yichud is easily solvable, by having someone else, probably a parent, present, if the woman is teaching the boy privately. The issue of pritzus would still be an issue, and that would be an issue both in private lessons or in the classroom. The question is if a woman teaching boys older than 9 is a "clear and simple" issur of pritzus, and while Rav Yosef is usually very clear and good at breaking down the issues, he seems to be mixing the yichud and pritzus issues here..

I grew up in yeshivish schools, and we had female teachers (for secular studies) until well past the age of 9, 3rd grade. If it was a clear issur, rather than a local hanhaga, those schools I am familiar with would not in any way have employed female teachers (I have no idea if they do today or not, but 30 years ago they did).

Regardless of my thoughts, the Kolech organization, which is a forum for religious women who are committed to "halacha, Jewish tradition, and gender equality" has registered its response saying that "it is inappropriate to project such thoughts onto children at such a young age. Doing so is an expression of lack faith in the ability for women  and children to talk, which has an important educational value. Why did Rav Yosef not express his reservations of men as heads of institutions in which girls at the age of maturity learn, and many male teachers in these institutions as well? He who points to the problem of women teaching, and not to the problem of the other direction as well, is not acting with tzniyus, but with hypocrisy (נוהג בצביעות ולא בצניעות). There is a great need to reign in the immodest obsession with tzniyus which relates to people that were created in the image of God as people who cannot control themselves and have nothing else in their lives." (source: Srugim)

With all due respect to Kolech, just because people can control themselves, does not mean provoking such thoughts is correct. Just because a person can control himself does not mean it is right to put that person in the situation where he has to have those thoughts in his head and find himself in situations in which he has to control himself.

I am not saying it is wrong, as we all live in the world and daily find ourselves in such situations all the time. I am just commenting on their statement that Rav Yosef makes people out to be "people who cannot control themselves and have nothing else in their lives" - perhaps people can control themselves, but Rav Yosef feels putting themselves in that position, and creating a situation in which improper thoughts will almost definitely go through their heads, that alone is wrong, even though people can control themselves.

On the other hand, I do think their point about the complaint only coming regarding female teachers, yet it seems to be perfectly acceptable for men to teach in girls schools of all ages, to teach women, to run schools for girls and women, and that should be as serious a problem, is a perfectly good claim. As a matter of fact, I wrote the same thing exactly 4 years ago (minus 2 weeks) about men running an all-girls school


  1. There is the prohibition of yichud, which applies to a boy from 9 and up. This is an issur d'oraisa and people therefore have to be completely makpid about it.

    Perhaps I'm wrong, but wasn't yichud a decree of Dovid promulgated after the events concerning Amnon and Tamar? If so, how could it be an issur d'oraisa?

    The Wolf

  2. I think it was shlomo hamelech. not sure. but I think it is an asmachta on a d'oraisa. not sure

  3. Iirc it depends on the woman's status. It's deoraisa if she is married and derabbanan if she is single.
    The chiddush of maaseh Tamar was she was single.

  4. Before anyone objects to the Psak the following should be considered. Many female teachers in the USA have been arrested and/or suspended for engaging in sex with pre-teen and teen boys. There was a news item last year and a link to a website documenting the fact that more women teachers in the US were having relations with boy students than the other way around. They listed the female teachers their addresses and their pictures - it was many hundreds I was very surprised. Lets give the Rav credit I think we dont all realize that the many of these Ravs are "with it" and know what can happen. They are not as "prudish" or "out-dated" as some many think.

  5. Many female teachers in the USA have been arrested and/or suspended for engaging in sex with pre-teen and teen boys.

    I find that hard to believe. Yes, you hear the occasional news story, but considering how many teachers there are in the US, those numbers are fairly insignificant.

    Please provide a link to this website that lists hundreds of teachers.

    The Wolf

  6. Yael, I seriously doubt the Rav gave this psak because he reads the gossipy news about American goyim.

    It does seem rather ridiculous to suggest a woman should give a boy bar mitzvah lessons. At a minimum it undermines the role model opportunity.

    And in Israeli society which is more successful at separating the sexes, putting a woman in front of a classroom of boys can also be inappropriate. In the US there's probably a lot of coping with hormones & jokes that while it can be done is a strain on tznius.

    But Koleich makes some important points (as they make the mistake of criticizing the entire idea) - the wrong kind of emphasis on separation can oversexualize these contacts, women have a role as authority figures as well, and all teacher-student relationships across the genders should be handled with great caution.

  7. I do not have the link so do your own Google search. I read the story last year.

  8. I would also say regarding the US times have changed. We lived in a right-wing community which had some women teaching English studies in the boys elementary, but from 7th and up they had phased in a policy of not hiring new women to teach there. So even though there were still a couple of women there, none were cute 30 year olds if you get my drift.

  9. When i had my bar mitzvah, i lived in a relatively small jewish community in the states. We were honored that a Gadol HaDor lived quietly in our community, where most didn't even realize the greatness of the giant who lived around the corner from them.
    He offered bar mitzvha lessons for free, and my parents sent me to him. He would teach me the notes, record them on a tape, and then when i studies the notes, i would sit with the rebbetzin in the kitchen and she would listen to me and correct me when I made a mistake.
    This gadol has written many seforim on various subjects, and was a talmud muvhak of one of the greatest sages of the century. I do not doubt for one second that he was concerned about pritzus on laining lessons. (There was never an issue of yichud because he was always there when i was, as far as i can remember.)

  10. Why are we only talking about women and boys, and men and girls - the laws of Yichud should apply for Rebbeim and boys being tutored privately and women and girls being tutored privately. I heard from a big expert in treatment of pedophiles in our communities, that our communities should institute the laws of yichud in private tutoring sessions even with same genders. Unfortunately child abuse is rife and a big problem and we need to setup protocols to prevent it. Parents should make sure their kids aren't put in a situation where abuse can happen.

  11. Kolech, yet another organization which confuses Torah with Western sensibilities and culture, disguising this confusion as the "reality on the ground."

    As Jews we are here to make Torah the reality in This World, NOT the other way around.

    The reality on the ground is that humroth separating men and women, when not halachicly necessary may BE necessary in order to combat the feminist/Western influences on Jewish men, as well as to combat the idiotic notion that Shalom Bayit means giving your wife whatever she wants, and stick your noise back in a sefer where it belongs.

    Don't even get me started.


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