Playing Hookey

Q. All the kids at my high school, when they have doctor's appointments and the like, stay out a little longer for lunch or ice cream. On a "once in a while" basis, is it a real problem ethically? Are we "robbing" our parents, who pay a hefty annual sum to send us to a Jewish school, expecting us to always attend? 

A. Cutting class occasionally is not inherently unethical. After all, you’re not getting paid by the hour. Judaism considers any girl over the age of 12 and any boy over the age of 13 as an adult who is responsible for her or his own decisions.

At the same time, playing hooky can involve a variety of serious ethical problems. One problem is that after cutting class, the teenager faces powerful temptations to misbehave. If he is caught, he is tempted to lie; due to missed class time, he may be tempted to copy homework or cheat on an exam. Jewish tradition warns us against putting our values to the test in this way.

Another potential issue is honoring parents. Everyone has an obligation to honor their parents; this is so important that it is one of the Ten Commandments. As long as you are living at home, you have an additional responsibility to conform to household norms, which probably include regular school attendance. If good attendance is very important to your parents, or if skipping classes will reflect badly on them or on other family members, you may be falling short of your responsibility towards your family if you miss class.

Skipping class can also show disrespect for teachers and for the school as a whole. The last thing you want is for your teachers to become demoralized, or for school discipline to fall apart. Another severe problem is that playing hooky may also incite other students to follow your example, against their better judgment and their best interest.

If your school has an honor code, you must abide by it. An honor code is an obligation, which a student takes upon himself.

Mature teenagers are beginning to take on adult responsibility. On the one hand, this means that they can begin to establish their own priorities, which are not necessarily identical to the expectations others have of them. On the other hand, it means that they themselves should be able to value the immense importance of a good education and of contributing to a positive attitude towards the institutions to which they belong and the norms which apply there. A student who carefully takes account of all of these considerations will hopefully conclude that skipping class is seldom a good idea.

It goes without saying that you should never miss Torah classes, as this would constitute neglect of Torah study.