Question: When a rebbe causes financial loss to a student, may the student sue the rebbe for damages?
Short Answer: A student may sue his rebbe if the rebbe causes the student financial loss. However, the poskim frown upon such practice.
I. Wallet in the River
The Gemara (Kiddushin 32a) asks to what extent must a son honor his father? The Gemara answers that even if the father throws “a wallet” into the river in front of his son, the son must not embarrass the father and must not become visibly upset. The Gemara attempts to prove from here that, in general, a son must honor his father with the son’s own money, as if the son must honor the father with the father’s money (and thus the wallet in this case is the father’s own wallet), it is not a big deal that the father threw his own wallet in the river. The Gemara responds that this is not a good proof, as the son must not get upset, even though his inheritance was just thrown into the river.
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 240:5) rules that, in general, kibud av va’eim need only be performed with the funds of the father (i.e., a child need not expend his own resources to fulfill this mitzvah).
II. The Son’s Wallet
But what is the halachah where the father throws the son’s wallet into the river? May the son sue the father and claim monetary damages?
The Rama (Yoreh Dei’ah 240:8) writes that a son is permitted to prevent his father from throwing the son’s wallet into the river. However, once the father throws the wallet into the river, the son is forbidden from embarrassing the father. The son, however, may sue the father (in beis din). The Rama similarly clarifies that a son may only sue the father for actual losses, but he may not sue him for simply preventing the son from accruing gains.
III. Extrapolation to Rebbe
The sefer Kavod V’Hidur (p. 243) cites the K’sav Sofer (Yoreh Dei’ah 107-108) who rules that this same halachah applies to a student and his rebbe. The student may sue his rebbe if the rebbe causes him financial loss. Indeed, even though we generally say that kavod to a rebbe is stricter than to a parent (see Article #1), we don’t find that a student must suffer a financial loss at the hands of his rebbe.
The K’sav Sofer subsequently doubts his own ruling based on the Gemara (Sanhedrin 110a), which states that any student who argues with, or complains against, his rebbe, is viewed as if he is arguing with the Sh’chinah. The K’sav Sofer, however, distinguishes this Gemara because it is not dealing with financial loss caused by the rebbe.
Ultimately, however, the K’sav Sofer concludes that it is not proper for a son or student to sue his father/rebbe because the Sefer Chasidim frowns upon it. Specifically, the Sefer Chasidim (584) cites a story where a father promised his son a sum of money if he married a specific woman. After the son married her, the father refused to pay. The friends of the son encouraged the son to sue his father, as his lack of funds was disturbing his learning. The son refused, as he could not bring himself to cause pain to his father.
Additionally, the P’sakim U’T’shuvos (240:30:256) cites the Maharam MiLublin who rules that it is forbidden for a son to sue his father (and by extension, a student to his rebbe), as the Shulchan Aruch writes that a son may not cause his father pain.
IV. Other Facts of the Litigation
The Rama (ibid) notes that if a father sues his son for financial loss, the son must litigate in the father’s jurisdiction/local, even though the son is the “nitba” (the defendant). However, the father must pay for the son’s travel expenses.
The Aruch HaShulchan (240:29) challenges this ruling, as, if so, a rebbe should have to pay the student’s expenses where the rebbe sues the student in his own jurisdiction/locality. This, however, does not make any sense, for why should the rebbe foot the bill for something that the student must do regardless.
New Series Next Week: Sheimos
Next Week’s Topic: May one write and then erase the letters alef and daled of Hashem’s name (sheim “adnus” – i.e., alef, daled, nun, yud)?