Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • The Happiness in Purim
קטגוריה משנית
  • Jewish Laws and Thoughts
  • Additional Lessons
To dedicate this lesson
The middle schoolers sat in their chairs, eyes riveted to the stage in front of them. It was the long awaited Purim play. Costumed youngsters took to the stage, some of them more successful than others of them at evoking laughter from the crowd. A hush fell over the boys as Yitzchak took to the stage. Yitzchak had been dubbed "class clown" by more than one teacher, and he was known to take the position very seriously. His fellow students were very eager to see what they knew would be a masterful performance.
Yitzchak began his part, and, within seconds, it was obvious whom he was trying to imitate. His clothing, hand gestures and speech were an exact imitation of Rabbi Shlomo, the eighth grade gemara teacher. Before long, Yitzchak had the entire audience doubled over with laughter, at his impressions of the teacher.
In the beginning of Yitzchak’s presentation, the principal was laughing along with everyone else. As Yitzchak continued, though, the principal started to become uneasy. Yitzchak’s imitation of Rabbi Shlomo was, well, too good. Yitzchak had managed to hone in on every quirk in Rabbi Shlomo’s speech, mannerisms, and style of dress, and the image that came across was… terrible. Yitzchak was putting together a composite picture that had every flaw of Rabbi Shlomo’s, with none of his positive qualities.
The next day, the principal paid a visit to Yitzchak’s class. "Boys, I’d like to discuss yesterday’s Purim play." The principal paused. "I see that you worked very hard, and the way that you came together as a class to make this event happen was very impressive. I just have one concern, boys. The imitation of Rabbi Shlomo was a little overdone. He came across in a very unflattering way. He must have been so embarrassed, and all this in front of the entire school! He’s a great Torah scholar, and that makes the embarrassment of him even worse!"
The boys sat silently for a moment, until Yitzchak himself spoke up. "We didn’t do anything wrong, really! We asked permission from Rabbi Shlomo, before we wrote the play. We asked him if we can imitate him and make him look silly, and he said it’s OK."
Were the students allowed to imitate Rabbi Shlomo, given that he had given the students permission to make fun of him? Or, perhaps, was it still forbidden for the students to do what they did?

Answer of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, zt"l:
Even if the rabbi in question gave explicit permission for the students to mock him, what the students did was forbidden, for two reasons:
1. Despite the law that a rabbi is allowed to forgo his honor, this is only in cases in which there is no degradation of the rabbi. However, the rabbi is not allow himself to be degraded. (Responsa of the Rivash (siman 220) in the name of the Raavad, and others)
2. It is quite possible that Rabbi Shlomo’s permission wasn’t given wholeheartedly, and that, in his heart of hearts, he was bothered by the students’ performance.
It is important to add that the matter of Purim plays is a very serious one. I read that Rabbi Shimon Sofer (author of Michtav Sofer, and son of the Chatam Sofer) died as a result of distress caused by the mockery of a "Purim rabbi." G-d forbid, that we should continue this custom, particularly in yeshivas, which are supposed to set examples of honor and fear of Torah. It is a mitzva to protest this terrible practice. It is forbidden not only to mock Torah scholars, but even simple people, in the name of Purim festivity.

In summary: it is forbidden to make fun of a rabbi, even if he says explicitly that he agrees to be mocked.

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