Mrs. Goldenberg is a math teacher in a community school. She is known to be a stern disciplinarian, and she has acquired the respect and admiration of her high school students. David, a student in her classroom and definitely a challenging personality, consistently interrupts the class. On the third day of school, Mrs. Goldenberg confiscated David’s iPad air due to the disturbance it was causing the classroom. Although David initially resisted, Mrs. Goldenberg assured him that she was confiscating the iPad temporarily and he reluctantly handed it over. The iPad was stored by Mrs. Goldenberg in the teacher’s closet. Before the holiday break, David asked for his property to be returned. However, the iPad was missing from the closet. David placed a phone call to our Bet Din demanding that Mrs. Goldenberg reimburse him for the loss he sustained, and deliver to him the monetary compensation he would need to buy a new iPad. Mrs. Goldenberg responded to our call explaining that she felt that she was not responsible for the loss, since David was in violation of using the device during class. She explained that David must take responsibility for such a violation, and frankly, he is the ultimate cause of his own loss. She felt it was a perfect opportunity for David to learn the consequences of breaking the rules.
Is David or Mrs. Goldenberg responsible for the lost iPad? How should the Bet Din rule and why?
According to Torah law, a teacher has the right to take the necessary measures needed to discipline students. While Talmudic law offers a great deal of latitude in restraining a misbehaving student, nevertheless, a teacher is required to adhere to the direction of contemporary Torah leaders of the generation regarding disciplinary tactics. Conforming to the educational norms of society and adhering to school policy is a teacher’s responsibility. Damages caused by a teacher that are unrelated to the behavioral correction of a student, are viewed as excessive and the student maintains the right to compensation.
It stands to reason that confiscating an electronic device from a student to prevent further disruption caused by the device, is clearly within a teacher’s authority. However, a teacher is restricted from using the device and must guard the property while it is in her possession. Like an unpaid watchman, a teacher is liable if the item is stolen because of negligence. Hence, if the property of the student was originally only temporarily confiscated, in instances in which the teacher is unable to return the item on account of negligence, she is liable. The teacher may not attribute the theft to the student’s misconduct, since she already prescribed the necessary punishment as a temporary confiscation and consented to returning the item.
Interestingly, according to some leading halachic authorities, a community leader of profound stature may penalize a member of the community to prevent him from violating Torah law. This ruling is rarely applicable and is surely not relevant to a high school teacher. Thus, even though a teacher wishes to penalize a student monetarily to teach him a lesson for the future, she is restricted from doing so.
By rule of the Shulhan Aruch, an unpaid watchman that negligently stores a valuable item is liable for payment. If the item is not stored under lock and key, then the one who has stored it is regarded as negligent, especially if others have access to the closet in which the item is stored. Even a locked closet is insufficient in instances in which a copy of the key is held by numerous people who are untrustworthy.
According to Torah law, if a lender is servicing a borrower at the time of loaning him an object, the borrower is by divine decree absolved of all liability. This decree, written explicitly in the verses of the Torah, is applicable to all custodians and is relevant even in case of negligence. According to the Shulhan Aruch this decree is also applicable to a teacher and student in a classroom setting. Depending on who can dictate the material studied, the other party is considered a servicer. Nowadays, neither the student nor teacher can dictate what material is studied but rather the curriculum is set by the school administration or board, rendering this decree rarely applicable in a classroom.
According to Torah law, one who is liable for damages to another’s property is only required to pay for the value of the item at the time of damage. Hence, although replacing the item for a new one is obviously more money, the offender is only liable to compensate the victim with the value of a used item.
VERDICT: The Struggle of a School Teacher
Our Bet Din ruled that although Mrs. Goldenberg had the right to temporarily confiscate David’ s iPad, she is, however, liable for payment. After questioning, it was apparent that the closet door was generally left unlocked, and although it may have been locked for part of the time, the key was held by numerous workers. Leaving an iPad in an unlocked closet is an act of negligence, which warrants compensation. As mentioned in Torah law, since Mrs. Goldenberg originally prescribed the necessary punishment for David’s actions and consented to returning the iPad, she may no longer attribute the theft to David’s misconduct. The theft is a factor unrelated to David’s behavioral correction and is her liability. Mrs. Goldenberg’s request for an exemption to teach David a lesson for the future was rejected as well. As aforementioned, it is not within the teacher’s jurisdiction to monetarily penalize a student as a preventive measure. Nevertheless, Mrs. Goldenberg is not responsible for the cost of a new iPad, since the iPad that was stolen was not new. She is only responsible to compensate for the value of the iPad at the time of its theft. Thus, after inquiry, our Bet Din ruled that Mrs. Goldenberg is to pay half the claim. We instructed that payment was to be made to David’s parents, thereby preventing her any unnecessary embarrassment.
In Loving Memory of Vera Bat Carol, A”H
YOU BE THE JUDGE
Joe rented out his luxurious beachfront villa in Ashdod to Sam for the duration of three weeks, commencing with the first day of Sukkot. The total cost of the rental for the three-week period was $10,000. Upon payment in full, Joe provided Sam with the keys to the Ashdod villa. With the barbaric attack of the Hamas terrorist group on the eighth day of the holiday, the city of Ashdod was subject to multiple missile attacks for the duration of the short-term rental. As such, within a few days of the attack, Sam evacuated the villa and traveled with his family back to Los Angelas. Prior to his departure he messaged Joe that he expects a refund in the amount of $6,666 dollars on account of the war. A Bet Din session was conducted via zoom, and while both parties apologized to our staff for disputing the matter during this tragic crisis, they both expressed that they were not wealthy people and needed the money to help their children. Joe, the homeowner, explained that since the rent was already collected in full, the ramifications of the war are the misfortune of Sam, the tenant. Sam countered that his vacation turned into a traumatic nightmare as he and his family spent all day in and out of the home’s bomb shelter with sirens and explosions sounding off overhead.
Is Sam entitled to a refund? Can Joe withhold the funds once collected? How should the Bet Din rule and why?