Alef Adar II, 5776
Place: Bnei Brak, Eretz Yisrael
A teacher once devised an innovative method of taking attendance. Instead of the standard time-consuming method of calling out each boy's name, he decided to have his thirty students sit in three rows of ten. Starting with the first row, the boys would count from one to ten, thus enabling him to quickly know who was present.
Is this method problematic, since it involves counting the students, which could instigate an ayin hara, chas veshalom?
The teacher turned to his rov, Rav Shmuel Vosner OBM for a ruling on the matter. R. Vosner writes that the first issue that must be clarified is whether this case constitutes an indirect method of counting. As the Gemara states in Yuma (22b), one may count Bnei Yisrael in an indirect fashion (such as Shaul did when counting his soldiers, once using pieces of pottery and another time using lambs). In this case, the teacher is not counting the students himself; he is merely having them count from one to ten. Can this be viewed as an indirect method of counting?
If we will assume that this is considered indirect, the next issue to consider is the fact that this counting is unnecessary. In Shaul's case, it was necessary for him to know how many soldiers he had, so it was permitted for him to count (indirectly). In our case, however, the teacher has the option of reverting to the standard method of taking attendance. May one count (indirectly) if there is no need to do so?
The answer to this question can actually be found in a story in Sefer Shmuel. The Tanach (II Shmuel 24) relates that Dovid Hamelech counted the Bnei Yisrael unnecessarily, and as a result a plague broke out among the Jewish nation. The mefarshim differ whether he used items to count them or counted them directly (see Ramban, Shemos 30:12. Radak, II Shmuel 24:1). If he counted them directly, it can be inferred that indirect counting is permitted even if it is unnecessary; it he counted them indirectly, it is clear that even this can produce negative outcomes.
R. Vosner concludes that even if indirect counting is always permissible, in this case it would be forbidden. He provides three reasons for this: