Volume 31 Number 84
                 Produced: Tue Mar 28  6:22:19 US/Eastern 2000

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Corporal Punishment (6)
         [Leah S. Gordon, Anonymous, Binyomin Segal, Zev Sero,
A.J.Gilboa, Stuart Wise]


From: Leah S. Gordon <lsgordon@...>
Date: Sat, 04 Mar 2000 19:07:54 -0800
Subject: Corporal Punishment

Mr. Zev Sero writes:

>Excuse me?  If the teacher believed in corporal punishment and the
>parents didn't, then the school is of course 100% correct in refusing to
>fire him, and telling the parents to take a hike, exactly as it would if

As a parent and a teacher, I heartily object to the above statement.
First of all, it is illegal in many states to use corporal punishment in
the schools (at least in the public schools; I don't know about
religious schools).  Second, no teacher should need physical force as an
educational method.  There is something seriously wrong with the
teacher, students, educational environment or all of the above if s/he
did feel such a need.  If any teacher *ever* struck my son, I would
certainly seek his/her dismissal.

And I would *never* initiate any physical contact with a student--I am
even uncomfortable when a [female] student hugs me goodbye at the end of
the year--it just is not appropriate for the professional relationship.
(Granted, very young children do need cuddles, but I teach high school.)

>the parents objected that the teacher told their children that their
>science textbooks are wrong, and Hashem created the world in 6 days of
>24 hours each.

This literal translation, while ubiquitous among fundamentalist
Christians (l'havdil [to differentiate!]), is by no means universal
among Orthodox Jews.  There is plenty of room for interpretation of
Genesis in a method consistent both with halakha and science--and I
believe this issue has been discussed by many learned people on M.J.

>  *Torah* believes in corporal punishment (`he who spares
>his stick, hates his son'), and authorises teachers to implement it.

I would be interested in seeing *halakhic* sources for taking this
passage literally.  Indeed, the only halakha that comes to mind
immediately is an admonition *not* to hit a child who might (for reasons
of age or temperament) be tempted to hit back, lest you thus incite a
capital crime.

I will add that child-development research has shown conclusively that
children raised with violence are far more likely to become violent
themselves, and have all kinds of emotional problems.

Leah S. Gordon

From: Anonymous
Date: Sun, 5 Mar 2000 22:37:13 +0000
Subject: Corporal Punishment

I was stunned by the recent posting which not only justified, but
virtually seemed to mandate, the use of corporal punishment in our

Before discussing the issue itself, the statement in that posting that
"a school has no right to fire someone for sticking to what the Torah
says and ignoring modern ideas that contradict it" is irrelevant to this
matter.  If a school specifically stipulates that the teacher has no
right to use corporal punishment, the teacher (if he is so misguided as
to think that this restriction is in violation of Torah) should not
accept a job in that school.  If he *does* take it, he is subject to
dismissal the very first time he lays a hand on a student, since that is
a condition of his employment.

As for the din: Jewish law does not mandate corporal punishment. It
permits it, if it will be effective in motivating the student to do
better in his studies.  It is in this sense that the verse says "Chosech
shivto sonay b'no" (in effect, spare the rod and spoil the child;
literally, "He who spares his rod hates his child.")  If such punishment
would have the desired effect, and is withheld out of misguided
compassion, it is detrimental to his son's growth in Torah and mitzvos. 
Where, however, it is counterproductive -- where the physical punishment
will make the child hate Torah -- I doubt that there is a posek alive who
would permit it.  

It would appear from the words of at least some Rishonim (early
commentaries) that the teacher is restricted to corporal punishment for
motivation, not for punishment.  See, e.g., the Meiri (c. 1300) in his
commentary about exile, who says the exemption extends to "a father who
hits to _punish_, or a teacher to _teach_."  It would seem to me
(speaking as a school administrator) that if a teacher must resort to
physical punishment to motivate, he deserves to be fired not only because
of his violation of the terms of his employment, but because of his
incompetence as a motivator.

As a child, though I was fortunate not to be a victim, I was  a witness
to one rebbe (the only one, apparently, in a Yeshiva   which employed
dozens) who administered physical punishment.  Simply put, the man was a
sadist, who maimed many students spiritually, and at least one
physically, for life. This was certainly a violation of Jewish law, which
stipulates that the manner in which it is to be done when permitted and
advisable is severely restricted: that it not be done in anger nor with
cruelty.  Indeed, the Talmud says that a thin strap (a sandal thong) is
all that should be used to administer such punishment. Had a parent gone
to the authorities early in the man's career  (since the school
administration did nothing), many children would have been saved for
Yiddishkeit.  The comparison to reporting to Soviet authorities those who
fulfilled the mitzvah of circumcision is nothing short of obscene.

From: Binyomin Segal <bsegal@...>
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2000 17:40:04 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Corporal Punishment

Although some of the details of Zev Sero's recent post on corporal
punishment may have been true, the tone and hence the overall impression
it leaves is false.

Historically, halacha certainly did allow for corporal punishment. But
all the jewish sources (from the gemara in baba batra, the rambam,
shulchan aruch, etc) are clear that it must not be a "makat oyev"
(lit. enemy's strike) suggesting that a teacher must never hit in
anger. in fact the gemara's expression that you should hit a student
only with a shoe lace is remenicent in tone of the vaguely modern idiom
"20 lashes with a wet noodle"

Further, modern poskim and torah leaders in education are generally in
agreement that in today's world hitting is a BAD idea. see for example
rav wolbe's sefer. as a result, i would not be surprised to see that
parent and school may have an appropriate difference of opinion in
regard to the halacha (and/or appropriate behavior) in today's
world. the time and place to deal with this disagreement (as with many
others) is in the principals office _before_ you send your child to that
school. if you can not come to an agreement then, don't send your child
to that school.

while it is true we must be careful not to be overly imitative of modern
philosophies that are contrary to halacha, we must also be careful not
to become so "fundamentalist" that everything the modern world says must
be false.


From: Zev Sero <Zev@...>
Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2000 19:01:52 -0500 
Subject: RE: Corporal Punishment

The only facts given by the original poster were that this was a Grade 1
teacher who believed in corporal punishment.  From this alone the poster
concluded not only that the teacher should be fired, but that no
reasonable person could disagree with him, since he presented that
conclusion without any supporting arguments, as an obvious thing.

There was nothing to indicate that this teacher was vicious in his
discipline; it was not even stated that the teacher actually carried his
belief in corporal punishment into practise, though if he didn't then
presumably the parents wouldn't have found out about it to complain.
Nevertheless, from the fact that the poster said that the teacher
`believed in corporal punishment' rather than that he `hit the
children', I gather that his primary concern is with this teacher's
principles rather than with how often he carries them out, and that he
thinks it's those principles that make the teacher unfit.

Whether to hit or not is a decision that in any individual case must be
made by those in posession of the specific facts, who know the kid and
can form an informed judgement on how he will react, etc.  But to say
that corporal punishment is wrong in *principle* is IMHO contrary to
Torah and to Jewish tradition.

Think of the difference between the practise of vegetarianism, which is
halachically acceptable, and vegetarianism in principle, which is not.

Zev Sero                              Harmless Historical Nut

From: A.J.Gilboa <bfgilboa@...>
Date: Wed, 08 Mar 2000 15:58:45 -0800
Subject: Corporal Punishment

Zev Sero's post is another example of the widespread confusion about
the difference between "halacha" (Torah, in Zeev's post) and psiqa.

I have grave doubts that any poseq in this day and age condones corporal
punishment in schools. Please correct me if I am wrong.

"Halacha is a dangerous thing" and I hope that none of our readers gets
the misguided notion from Zeev's post that corporal punishment in these
times should be condoned on "halachic" grounds.

[Two submissions combined here by Mod.]

 As a follow up on my recent post on this topic, I have consulted with
R.  Neriah Guttel, whose name I have mentioned before in several related
contexts. Since a recent High Court "anti-corporal punishment" decision
in Israel, this has become a "hot" topic.
 Naturally, R. Guttel has been asked for his comments on the subject on
three recent occasions. He plans to treat the subject thoroughly and to
publish his ideas in the near future. Meanwhile, he has provided me with
several halachic sources that deal with this and related issues. I will
attempt to summarize the main points below. Please note that this is a
summary and my free translation of R. Guttel's letter. I would be happy
to send a copy of the Hebrew original to anyone who is interested. R.
Guttel agrees, however, that my English summary is a reasonable
reflection of the original.

1. One certainly may not assume that "hosech shivto sone bno" ("spare
the rod and spoil the child") may be taken literally as halacha any more
than "`ayin tahat `ayin" ("an eye for an eye").

2. A teacher is halachicly responsible to protect his pupils from
physical harm inflicted by others. Most certainly then he is responsible
not to cause physical harm himself. (Qiryat Hanna, R. G. Koblenz)

3. Only exceptional teachers whose personal behavior and spiritual
merits are beyond question are permitted to use physical force for the
purpose of chastisement of wayward pupils. (Yam Shel Shlomo, Maharsha"l)

4. Physical force may be used only very sparingly. Certainly it is
forbidden for a teacher to strike a child out of anger.  (Ntive hinnuch,
Admo"r Slonim).

5. It is strictly forbidden to strike a child who might react by hitting
or cursing the teacher or parent. This is not just a matter of
biological age of the child but specifically refers to the likelihood of
his response, even if the child is technically a minor (qatan). (Talmud
Bavli Mo`ed Qatan, Ramba"m Hilchot Mamrim, Ritv"a Mo`ed Qatan).

6. It is strictly forbidden for a parent or teacher to strike a child
out of anger. If it is claimed that the purpose was in fact educational,
the rabbinical courts must determine if, by using physical force, the
teacher or parent really acted in the most effective way to lead the
child in the path of Tora and mitzvot. (see 8.)  (R. A. Sherman,

7. It is wrong to use any coercive means, including corporal punishment
of course, that might lead to rebellion on the part of the child, since
this actually would defeat the purpose, which is to lead the child in
the path of Tora and mitzvot. (Sride Esh).

8. What constitutes "the greater good of the child" must be decided by
the Rabbinical courts in conjunction with expert advice of properly
trained professionals such as social workers, educators, etc. The courts
may not rely on their superior knowledge of halacha (or even on
contractual agreements undertaken by the parents) to decide in such
matters. This is precisely the same situation as the case of desecration
of Shabbat for the benefit of a sick person or feeding of a sick person
on Yom Kippur, where the court is required to consult with medical
experts. (Legal Decisions of the Rabbinical Courts).

To sum up the summaries.

The above halachic opinions, taken together, mean that corporal
punishment may never be used as a wholesale method in educating
children. Only in exceptional cases, where the punishment is
administered by a highly respected and morally impeccable individual,
and where it is clear that the punishment will lead to improvement in
the child's behavior, may corporal or other coercive measures be
used. The expert opinion of psychlogists, social workers and other
professionals must be heeded in determining policy regarding use of

Yosef Gilboa


From: Stuart Wise <swise@...>
Date: Thu, 02 Mar 2000 11:54:28 -0800
Subject: Re: Corporal Punishment

So, if this is the case, why isn't it in wider practice?  Maybe parents
don't want strangers hitting their kids.

Worse, however, is the way rebbeim embarrass their students if they
don't learn well. I had a nephew whose rebbe would say publicly to the
class that the boy didn't learn well because he was fat. There are many
ways to hurt a child, and while the Torah has its position that corporal
punishment is OK, causing physical harm to another Jew is still


End of Volume 31 Issue 84