Is a “Knas” A Legitimate Educational Tool?

Question: Our son is in Yeshiva and has a hard time waking up in the morning and coming to seder. The way the Hanhala is dealing with it is by giving monetary knassim (fines) to my son. Besides the fact that it seems to be punishing us more than him, we find this idea to be counter-productive: Wouldn’t having to make up the material be much more productive?

Answer: You are bringing up a very sensitive and important issue and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to address it. I would like to divide the discussion into three parts: (1) The importance of discipline in general. (2) monetary punishments and fines. (3) Punishments connected with learning.

In 5715 (1955), the legendary Mashpia Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Kesselman wrote a detailed report to the Rebbe about the structure of the Yeshiva in Kfar Chabad. He merited to receive a detailed response, which includes the following paragraph:

“Concerning what you finish your letter with, describing the reason that the discipline and obedience in the Yeshiva is lax: even if those reasons are true, it does not change the realities on the ground. It is well-known that proper discipline and obedience is the foundation of success in learning and behavior.” (Igros, Vol. 10 p. 86; #3047)

“Concerning strengthening the seder HaYeshiva (through giving a mussar style speech: I am sure that you are aware that the way of Chabad is not the way of Mussar. The fact that there are times that also in Chabad sharp words will be said is not because we love saying words of rebuke and Mussar, rather to inspire positive change and results.”

“In regards to the idea of giving knassim, monetary fines, to the students that are lax and not coming on time: It all depends on the impression it will have on the students and the results that you hope to attain with this policy. You must decide on your own based on your internal evaluation of the above”. (Igros, Vol. 11 p. 6; #3385)

In 5715, the Hanhalla of the Yeshiva in Lod received a letter from the Rebbe with many detailed answers and directives on education. One of them was the following: “In answer to your question if you should institute financial fines: in these types of circumstances you should evaluate what is considered acceptable in the country your Yeshiva is in.” (Ibid, #3471)

I’d like to add a personal observation that I have experienced and seen in my years as an educator (I stress that I am NOT quoting a letter of the Rebbe, and this is just my personal observation):

When I was younger, a typical disciplinary assignment included memorizing Tanya or Mishnayos b’al peh. While many of us ended up learning lots of Torah by heart because of this (…), the result wasa subconscious dislike for Tanya and Mishnayos. These parts of Torah became associated with bitterness and punishments, as opposed to sweetness and reward.

A much more productive approach would be to give a financial fine which can be redeemed through learning. This achieves many positive goals and results: (1) A punishment is given and the disciplinary structure is maintained. (2) The talmid sees that you are not after his money, as he is able to get it back with the proper diligence. (3) The learning is associated with receiving back his money and thus subconsciously is connected to positivity and reward.

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