Is the teacher’s strike kosher?

I promised to write about the high school teacher’s strike, which has been going on now for a month. We’re lucky; my eleventh-grader is in a private school, and my eighth-grader has only one striking teacher (but it’s her best teacher). Her large school has enough substitutes and non-striking teachers to muddle through. Most religious, semi-private high-school students are learning half a day, while public schools have been shut down completely. I read in Haaretz that this has been costing parents NIS1000/month in entertainment.

Last week Kommemiut, one of the Shabbat alonim, addresses a reader’s question about whether teachers are permitted to strike.

Rabbi Yaakov Idels, head of the Yeshiva “Hitzim,” gave three reasons why strikes are not a good “weapon” for teachers.

  1. They leave thousands of students with nothing to do, leading to ignorance, uselessness and violence.
  2. A strike is a type of power play. Such a message contradicts our approach of educating students to solve problems through negotiating, not threats or violence.
  3. We encourage our students to make maximum use of their time to learn Torah; a strike encourages the opposite of this ideal.

He adds that strikes have been so overused they are now ineffective, and advocates mediation by a neutral party as an alternative.

Rav Gidon Binyamin of Nof Ayalon writes that most modern poskim (halachic arbiters) forbid strikes that cause serious damage, economic or otherwise, to the general public. Sometimes a strike is valid. But the teachers’ strike causes harm to the public and not the employers. Even if a strike is justified, R. Binyamin also favors mediation.

He suggests that teachers increase their meager salaries by offering to work more days during the year or longer hours. Based on their reaction to the Dovrat reform, I don’t think that suggestion will fly.

In Shabbat be-Shabbato, Rav Yisrael Rozen of Machon Tzomet wants striking teachers to adopt a “matkonet erev Shabbat” (Friday afternoon schedule) like striking doctors do. We need to recognize that teachers’ work is as critical as that of security officers and medical workers.

These strikes are way too common. There must be a way to force the sides to negotiate or accept mediation. They should not be allowed to settle disputes, no matter how justified, on the backs of thousands of innocent students.

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