Volume 31 Number 95
                 Produced: Mon Apr  3  6:03:13 US/Eastern 2000

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Chilling Knowledge of Michtav Me Eliyahu's Legacy
         [Yeshaya Halevi]
Corporal Punishment (2)
         [Josh Backon, Deborah Wenger]
Corporal Punishment, a Summary
         [Binyomin Segal]
Evidence on Shtetl View of Corporal Punishment
         [Yeshaya Halevi]


From: Yeshaya Halevi <CHIHAL@...>
Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2000 15:04:48 EST
Subject: Chilling Knowledge of Michtav Me Eliyahu's Legacy

Shalom, All:
    Meir Shinnar <Chidekel@...> writes << I would point to a letter
in Michtav Me Eliyahu (R E Dessler)... R Dessler says that the
opposition to corporal punishment is based on infiltration of modern
ideas, and that the true haredi approach mandates corporal punishment.
He even goes so far as to say that if a student is well behaved,
teachers should make up excuses so they will have a reason to hit the
student, as it provides training in hachna'a (submission), a major role
of education.>>
    Folks, I happen to be closely related to the Dessler family. The
Michtav's son, Rabbi Nachum Zev Dessler, is my Uncle Velvel.  He, along
with other devoted souls, founded the renowned Hebrew Academy of
Cleveland, which I attended from kindergarten through 9th grade.
    This is the legacy of Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, the author of the
acclaimed Michtav Me Eliyahu.
    For 10 years at the Hebrew Academy of Cleveland I endured and
witnessed all the sadism that other posters have documented; severe
corporal punishment inflicted upon students by teachers--often by
teachers we genuinely liked because we respected their dedication and
giving ways.  But at the same time we too often feared and hated these
    Some of these teachers who beat us on Friday, invited us into their
homes on Shabbat and began Shabbos Clubs which combined food, fun and
Torah learning.
    I also witnessed the way Rabbi Dessler -- my Uncle Velvel -- used
his belt on my cousins.
    I will never, ever send a child of mine to a Hebrew Academy environment. 
    I now live in a community where corporal punishment in public
schools is forbidden. I confess: if I ever learn of a teacher hitting my
children, I will either have him jailed or beat him so severely that
perhaps I will be jailed.  Is there an inconsistency in my last
statement?: that I am so against violence perpetrated by others, that I
will use it myself to stop it?
 Just remember World War II: "the Good War," as it is sometimes called.
    In the 1970s I put my life on the line, physically fighting American
Nazi Party members.  I consider corporal punishment against my
schoolchildren to be a very, very different category of evil -- repeat,
a very, very different category of evil -- but it is still an evil that
may also have to be countered by force.
    I'm sorry if this offends some frum people.  But as the child is
father to the man, it is warped frumkeit which fashioned my views.
   Yeshaya Halevi (<chihal@...>, soon to be chihal@ync.net)


From: Josh Backon <BACKON@...>
Date: Thu,  30 Mar 2000 14:10 +0200
Subject: Re: Corporal Punishment

While classical Jewish sources permit chastising one's child (Midrash
Rabba Shemot) there were severe limits (MEIRI Bava Batra 21a) such as
only using a very light strap and hitting very gently, not hitting one's
child in the month of Tamuz. The RITVA (Moed Kattan 17a) recommended
that a parent verbally reprimand rather than hit. The Shulchan Aruch
YOREH DEAH (Hilchot Melamdim) Siman 245:10 delineates the permitted
parameters of a teacher giving corporal punishment to a pupil. A teacher
who physically abuses a pupil can be dismissed (the MEIRI in Bava Batra
21a calls this abuse a "peshia" [major offense]. See also the Pitchei
Tshuva YD 245 #4. The Nishmat Avraham CHOSHEN MISHPAT 424 # 2 brings
down the opinion of Harav Rabinovitz (Sefer Halacha u'Refuah I 336) that
a parent (and teacher) who hits out of anger not for "educational"
purposes, or has severely hit his child even for the sake of *chinuch*
(education) has carried out an *aveira* (sin). One is halachically
required to report the abusive parent (teacher) to the police.

Josh Backon

From: Deborah Wenger <dwenger@...>
Date: Thu, 30 Mar 00 08:37:53 -0500
Subject: Corporal Punishment

After following the pro-and-con thread of corporal punishment in
yeshivot (and let me say right away that I am definitely "con"), it
seems that one facet of the argument is being neglected - the effect
such punishment has on the child being hit.

(BTW, why is it that the possibility of corporal punishment is almost
always applied to boys? Does it mean that girls are better behaved,
easier to "control", or what?)

In an (admittedly unscientific) survey, I have yet to find anyone who
was hit in yeshiva as a child and grew up to see this as a positive
experience. Has anyone out there ever heard anyone say "Thank goodness
my rebbe hit me when I was younger; it really set me straight" or
anything to that effect? To the contrary, if anything, such experiences
seem to have had just about a universally negative effect, and I know of
several people who did "leave the derech" because of such treatment. And
to those who would say "Well, such kids were probably incorrigible to
begin with, and would have left the derech anyway" - I think that having
even one caring, compassionate rebbe who would be willing to devote some
extra time and effort to taking such a child under his wing would have
an immeasurably more positive influence than any number of rebbeim who
would hit him.

Deborah Wenger


From: Binyomin Segal <bsegal@...>
Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2000 14:37:15 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Corporal Punishment, a Summary

The following may seem a bit disjointed. It is a summary of my position
in an extended discussion I had with Zev about the ideas of corporal
punishment. Rather than rewrite this summary from scratch, I have cut
and pasted critical pieces from our correspondance.

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

Rav Wolbe (p46) directly responds to this by quoting zechariah 11:7 "and
i took for myself two rods, the one i called pleasantness and the other
i called beating, and i herded the flock" he suggests that the rod
referred to in mishlei is a rod of pleasantness - not a physical
beating, but an encouragement to growth

Basically my position has two main thrusts, here I first state them
briefly and then give details and references for each:

1. The halacha today - as decided by today's poskim - is not clearly in
favor of hitting a child. In fact I believe you will have a hard time
finding a post war,post Europe trained posek that calls hitting a child
in any circumstance a mitzvah. The last one that I am aware of is Rav
Dessler. A parent certainly has the right to posken like Rav Wolbe in
matters of chinuch, and their philosophy need not be called into
question for that. If you disagree with Rav Wolbe and Rav Moshe, that
too is your right (as it is the right of a school), but I have the right
not to have you teach my children.

2. Besides the matter of law, there is the matter of scholarship. Zev
seems convinced that the gemara in makot requires him to hit his
children.  I remain unconvinced. The gemara in makot does not exist in a
vaccuum, it must interact with other gemaras. I have made suggestions
for how the gemara in makot might be understood in light of other
gemaras. A fundamentalist reading of the gemara that does not account
for other gemaras and the way poskim throughout the ages understood the
halacha is not scholarship.

Now on to the details. First, I will deal with the practical
halacha. Let us accept that in principal the torah allows a parent to
hit, this does not mean that this behavior is encouraged, or even
allowed today. In fact, I believe the overall sense of gedolim today is
that hitting is inappropriate.

* If the parents don't like it, perhaps they should examine their own
* hashkafa, 

or as he said it most recently:

* No matter what some modern Rabbis (however famous) think is a good 
* general guideline on the *practical* question of whether hitting 
* children is a good idea, they cannot change the fact that *in principle*
* Torah believes in corporal punishment; and if all they're doing is 
* handing out practical advice as to when it is or isn't a good idea, 
* it should be obvious that this must be treated as general guideline,
* to be modified as the circumstances of each case seem to demand.

This is the crux of the matter. The parent has quite a bit of Torah
thought in support of not hitting, and not wanting teachers to hit a
child. As I have said most of the modern authorities agree that it is
not a good idea, and some forbid it entirely. Since the discussion is
not theoretical in nature - is hitting ever good, but rather a practical
one - should i allow my child to be spanked, the gemara is essentially
irrelevant in light of the modern halachik understanding. You may have
an interesting question for theoretical discussion, but it has little to
do with raising a child today.

Although I may be accused of another straw man - allow an example. The
Torah has a principal called Yibum. A wonderful mitzvah with beautiful
reasons. The ashkenazik world today PROHIBITS performance of this
mitzvah.  Since this act is one that is normally prohibitted (relations
with brothers wife), the consensus is that absent pure motivation the
act is still prohibited. This is not a theoretical discussion. Today, in
the ashkenazik world, a rabbi will force a man to perform chalitzah
rather than the biblically and talmudically preferred yibum.

A similar argument has been made by modern rabbis in regard to hitting
children. Hitting anyone is under most circumstances prohibited. The
torah permits a father or teacher to hit a child under limited
circumstances.  Among the limitations is that the adult must be acting
in the best interest of the child with no personal anger.  Many poskim
today assume that today we are not that "clean" when we discipline and
therefore it is prohibited to hit a child just as it is prohibited to
hit anyone.

Rav Moshe mentions the gemara in makot, and while accepting that a
teacher may hit a child, he also limits the occasions it would be
acceptable. for example, he takes it as obvious that a teacher may only
punish (in any way) when he is absolutely certain of the child's
guilt. (see Ig"M Y"D 2:113)

Rav Wolbe (in his book - Planting & Building p47) mentions that the
gemara (kiddushin 30a) limits a parent's permission to hit past the age
of 16 or 24 because at that point the parent is putting a stumpling
block before the child (who will strike back). Rav Wolbe suggests that
this idea applies today even to youngsters of three years old. That is -
today it would be prohipitted to hit any child above three because it
places before them a temptation to hit back.

As for it being obviously advice that you can take or leave.  It is not
obvious to me, nor to them, as they certainly write as if they mean it
as a general rule. Certainly you have the right to pasken like other
poskim.  Though as I said before, I believe you will have a hard time
finding a posek today that agrees with your position.

Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky also discouraged corporal punishment, as did the
Chazon Ish. I hesitate to mention their names because i do not have
specific citations available.

Now on to the theoretical:

* Even if a student *dies* from corporal punishment by a teacher (even a
* secular teacher), the teacher has no culpability at all, and does not
* even have to go into exile, because he did absolutely nothing wrong.

The gemara you refer to is Makkot 8a-b which says that a father or
teacher are not exiled for hitting a child . The mishna immediatly
following this however points out that a father can go to exile for
killing his child.  The gemara resolves this contradiction by pointing
out that the father is only exempt if the hit that resulted in death was
in fact a mitzvah. In other words, the gemara points out that a hit is
_not_ a priori a mitzvah, but rather, if it is a mitzvah then the father
is exempt. The Rambam in his commentary on the Mishna explicitly extends
this idea to teacher as well, and this seems to be the assumption of all
the commentaries. In fact the Tiferet Yisroel seems to say that this is
discussed in reference to the father rather than the teacher because the
times when a teacher is allowed to hit are more limited and therefore no
one would assume a teacher could always hit a student. (eg A teacher is
not exempt unless his hitting was a function of teaching torah. A
secular teacher would it seems therefore be exiled.)

The gemara (baba batra 21a) puts severe restrictions on the teachers
ability to hit a student. This idea is codified in Rambam (talmud torah
2:5) and shulchan aruch.

I do not really believe there is a contradiction between the two
gemaras.  I suggested however that a fundamentalist read of the gemara
in makot would create problems. Your pshat that suggests that a teacher
is always free to hit a child - even one behaving well - is
problematic. Does Rav disagree with the hashkafa you suggest is proven
in makot? How does Rav reconcile his advice with this principal you are
so sure is reflected in the gemara in makot?

Perhaps the simplest reconciliation is that the gemara in makot is not
about hashkafa, it is about what a court can do. Period. But you seemed
uncomfortable with this approach. So I will leave to you to understand
how Rav violated the holy hashkafa you imagine presented in Makot.

To summarize,the gemara in Makot suggests that a teacher may hit a
student. This is true - but with serious limitations. The gemara itself
on 8b points to certain limitations for a father and these are
suggestive of limitations for a teacher as well. Among the limitations
is that the adult be acting without anger. Many modern poskim point out
that with any anger, this permitted act becomes forbidden and hence
today should be assumed to be forbidden. A school has the right to
decide this issue for itself but so does a parent, and to say that
hitting is wrong - as a practical matter today - is not a violation of
the spirit or letter of any jewish law or thought.



From: Yeshaya Halevi <CHIHAL@...>
Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2000 14:03:18 EST
Subject: Evidence on Shtetl View of Corporal Punishment

(Note to Avi and other learned folks on mail-jewish): If you can allow
the sociologist/anthropologist in you to over-ride your tendency to
wince at slightly earthy language, you will find the following valuable
and very interesting.

    It's time for me to contribute my esoteric, factual viewpoint on
corporal punishment.
    1.  It was a fact of shtetl life that corporal punishment was
routine.  (Source will be given in a moment: have patience, or you'll
get such a zets in kup... ;)
    2.  It was also a fact of shtetl life that they lacked much
important knowledge we now take for granted, such as disease control,
not letting goyim kill us at their whims, etc. Ergo, the fact corporal
punishment was acceptable in Jewish life in the old days means nothing
by itself.  (My personal belief is that "violence is the last refuge of
the incompetent.")
    3.  I promised you an esoteric source, and here it is.  In my book
collection is a gem, probably out of print now, called "Yiddish Sayings
Mama Never Taught You" (Perivale Press, copyright 1975, Library of
Congress Catalog Number 79282.)  It is an English-Yiddish condensation
of a 1908 compilation by Ignaz Bernstein (1836-1909), who published the
"Leksikon fun der Nayer Yidisher Literatur" -- "Dictionary of Modern
Yiddish Literature."  ("Modern" here meant roughly 1900.)
    We'll dispense with the other insights the book gives us about the
Yiddish-speaking world of yore, and zoom in on two super-relevant
sayings and the "payrush" -- explanatory note -- that accompanies each
    4.  There used to be a common expression (word for word, as it
appears in the book), "Gib tokhes un gey varmes esn."  Translation
"Present your behind and have your hot lunch."  The accompanying
explanation: "So says the belfer (elementary school teacher's assistant)
to the kheyder-boys, whenever he whips them before letting them go home
to eat their lunches."
    Immediately following that entry is this one: "Frytig, iz der tokhes
tsaytik," which means "Friday, and the behind is ready."  The
accompanying explanation: [ready] "For spanking, that is.  It is a
custom in the Jewish schools [kheyder] to spank the boys on Friday
regardless, so that they will remember [their lessons] over the
    This is very troubling.  This linguistic, forensic evidence shows
they had ingrained knowledge of certain aspects of Psych. 101: that you
could use pain to reinforce a lesson.
    Contrast this, however, to the wonderful custom of a father or
teacher drawing (on a slate) with honey letters of the alef-bayt, then
having a child on his first day of school lick the letters so he would
associate knowledge and Torah with sweetness.
    Our forefathers knew that both pain and pleasure were powerful tools
of teaching. It is very, very sad that they used the pleasureful
reinforcement on the first day, and used the painful reinforcement for
all other days of a child's education.
    Yeshaya Halevi (<chihal@...>, soon to be chihal@ync.net)


End of Volume 31 Issue 95