Appreciation and Applause
Hi Rabbi, I have a question for you. 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.
What a beautiful and thoughtful question! I truly admire and “applaud” your sense of gratitude and desiring to express it. Having a keen sense of gratitude to those who exert themselves to try and assist 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’m 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 do clearly recall an occasion when I was present at a lecture given by a visiting Rabbi to a group of students visiting 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 their outward expression of appreciation. I’d 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 taught me a lot about their terrific positive character traits.
This incident made me wonder why this 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 from him. In fact, he assumed that the students who attended the lecture appreciated his efforts without showing any outward sign (other than not falling asleep!), and if only some came to him afterwards to thank him he might have actually been “insulted” by all of the others who just got up and left without thanking him!
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