A Standing Ovation

Question

Hi Rabbi, I recently went to a class about the “Portion of the Week”, and when the Rabbi concluded the lesson I felt that I should clap my hands to applaud in appreciation for the very interesting class. However, the other attendees didn’t clap, so I decided not to either, although I did tell the Rabbi how much I enjoyed the class. My question is, “Why didn’t everybody applaud? The class was truly outstanding.” Thanks.

3 months

Answers

  1. What a beautiful and thoughtful question! I truly admire and “applaud” your sense of gratitude and your desire to express it. Having a keen sense of gratitude to those who exert themselves for others — such as a teacher of Torah, who is likely not being paid very much (if at all) — is an extremely positive character trait. I wish that all of my students in the Yeshiva were like you! (Actually, I am virtually certain that they really are.)

    In my experience through the years, I have found it to be actually quite rare to see students applauding the Rabbi/teacher at the conclusion of a lecture or class. It certainly seems to be the widespread and accepted custom not to applaud, but rather to approach the speaker afterwards with personal words of gratitude if the situation permits.

    Having said that, I recall an occasion when I was present at a lecture given by a visiting Rabbi to a group of students who came to a yeshiva in Jerusalem for two weeks. When the students gave a big round of applause to show their appreciation for the terrific class, I admit that I was stunned by this “unusual” outward expression of appreciation. I had never seen it before. At first I thought that they clapped because they “just didn’t know better.” But, after a moment I realized that what they did made a lot of sense and it taught me a lot about their terrific positive character traits.

    This incident made me wonder why it is not the norm to express gratitude to the teacher of Torah by applauding the lesson. I realize that the students are probably rushing off to the next class or to lunch or to whatever is next on schedule, but does that really excuse not showing appreciation for the teacher’s efforts?

    I once heard a story from a colleague that might help explain the lack of applause, but I’m not convinced that it’s a satisfying explanation. He told me that after hearing a Torah lecture from a renowned Rabbi one evening, he approached the Rabbi to tell him how much he enjoyed the lecture and how wonderful and inspiring it was. The Rabbi replied, “You don’t have to tell me. That’s why I was asked to speak!” In other words, the teacher was absolutely not expecting any appreciation since he was just doing what was expected of him. In fact, he assumed that the students attending the lecture appreciated his efforts without showing any outward sign (other than not falling asleep!). He said that if only some but not all of the students came to him afterwards to thank him, he might have actually been insulted by the others who just got up and left without thanking him!

    By the way, in Jewish tradition throughout history there are certain excepted ways of showing honor and expressing appreciation. Perhaps the most well known is standing up for a very important person when he enters the room or exits. In fact, standing up for certain people, such as one’ parents and the elderly, is codified in Jewish Law. However, I have never seen a Jewish source that mentions clapping as a sign of gratitude. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong!

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team