TO SPANK OR NOT TO SPANK: THE VIEW OF HALACHA REGARDING CORPORAL PUNISHMENT

RABBI SHLOMO COHEN
11/14
This is probably the most controversial article I’ve put on the web. You may very well disagree with me, however, you’ll have a tough time taking the opposite viewpoint.
Over the years I have received many phone calls from mothers with a problem child. On many occasions, upon hearing the nature of the problem, I’ve said, “It sounds to me like your child needs a spanking.” Only to be met with “Chas V’Shalom” “G-d forbid that I hit my child.” “My rabbi says that hitting a child is prohibited.” “I’m afraid that Child Protective Services (CPS) will find out and take my child away.” “I could get arrested.” “I don’t want my children taken away from me.”
After asking that they not tell me who their Rabbi is, I explain the position of normative Jewish law.
First, however, it is crucial to understand that CPS will not take away your child, nor will the police come and arrest you. Every state in the Union has a law, which reads pretty much the same.

THE LEGAL ISSUE
Laws against Spanking (copied from a legal website)
Although the act of spanking a child is not necessary a crime, every state has laws against child abuse. Child abuse includes any act which is intended or reasonably likely to cause serious and permanent physical, psychological, or emotional harm to a child.
Most state laws against child abuse clearly state that mild physical force for discipline is allowed. However, the discipline cannot cause severe pain or injury and must be intended by the parent or guardian to be in the child’s best interest.
However, if too much force is used, spanking may cross the line into abuse. Most state laws against abuse take into account the age, size, and condition of the child, as well as the type, location, and severity of the force used. A typical spanking is legal in every state but one. This means a moderate, open-handed blow on a part of the body which is not particularly sensitive or prone to injury.
Only one state has expressly banned spanking. Delaware was the first state to ban corporal punishment in Sept. 2012. If I lived in Delaware and had young children I would be compelled to move.

CPS (CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES)
Apparently CPS will investigate any complaints but will generally not act unless there is clear evidence of abuse. The ‘cut-off’ point is usually whether or not the punishment has left a mark.
So, unless you spank hard enough to leave marks, which is pretty hard to do, you have no reason to fear the police or CPS. Remember, they deal on a regular basis, with children whose parents have beat them with a baseball bat, force their hands into boiling oil, or lock them in closets for days with no light, food water or toilets.
A potch on the tush is hardly going to register.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DISCIPLINE AND CHILD ABUSE

What type of discipline is considered Child Abuse?
Be aware that the line between spanking and abuse is not always clear. As a general rule, hitting a child with a closed fist, burning a child, or hitting the child with any object other than the hand, crosses that line.
I would add that screaming is worse than hitting.
Discipline is never accomplished when done in anger! Although, relatively, immediate feedback is necessary for the child to understand the connection between the misbehavior and the punishment, the adult must pause to consider the best way to deal with the issue. Yelling or beating the child is counter-productive.

HOW DID THE ‘NO-SPANKING’ METHOD OF CHILD-REARING COME ABOUT

For thousands of years parents spanked their children. Only recently has no-spanking become fashionable. It is brought to you by Academia, the same people who brought you evolution, bible criticism, feminism, egalitarianism and no child left behind. Academia has an agenda. That agenda is 180 degrees counter to Torah and Mesora.
Their philosophy would fall under the rubric of Darchei Emory. The standards of “Al Teilech B’Derech Itom” and “U’B’Chukosy Lo Teileichu” would apply. We cannot, and must not, fall for the false guidelines promulgated by those whose stated goal is to prove that Hashem doesn’t exist.
I was teaching in public school in the mid ‘70’s when New York State passed its ‘no-corporal punishment’ law. Although I never hit a child in the classroom, they knew that I could. On the day the law was passed there was a noticeable change in the attitude of the students. Every teacher remarked on that change. Any teacher who has been in the classroom for many years will tell you that the problem just gets worse and worse every year.
Children today are brought up to think they are equal to any adult. Nobody has any authority to tell them what to do and they may argue, or ignore, any adult at will. Unadulterated Chutzpa is rife. It is also completely unacceptable. There is a reason why adults are charged with raising children!
Once, when I was a principal, a mother and her fourth grade son were in my office. The son told his mother to shut up. Mom didn’t even react. That was perfectly okay with her. I told the boy to leave my office as I wouldn’t allow a child to talk to any adult, let alone his mother, that way. Mom didn’t say a word.
Children need direction. They actually feel much more secure when the lines are clearly drawn, when the rules are clear.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating indiscriminate corporal punishment. Indeed, there are those rare children who never misbehave; never need a spanking. But they are rare. By far and away, most children do need a non-gentle reminder of who’s the boss from time to time.
I’ve met way too many parents who attempted to raise their children without physical discipline. I never did a scientific survey, but, based on well over thirty years’ experience, I can unequivocally state that most parents failed.
Years ago, I was being Mishamesh Rav Scheinberg Zt”l while he spoke to a woman’s group. One mother asked about corporal punishment. The Rosh Yeshiva Zt”l answered, “If necessary use the flat of your hand on his Tuchus.”
Try to remember that you cannot reason with a child. You may think you can, and the child may even seem to respond to reasoning, however, ultimately you really can’t.

What are the Jewish sources?
The only Sefer in Tanach, which discusses child rearing to any extent, is Mishlei. Perhaps the most famous quote is, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” The actual verse reads “Spare the rod, HATE your child.”
Let’s start with Chumash. Right near the beginning the Torah tells us כי יצר לב האדם רע מנעוריו (בראשית ח’ כ”א)
“A person’s inclination is evil from his youth”. The Gemora says that that means from birth. In modern psychological terms it means that the infant has no ego or superego, purely id. The infant has no clue to the surrounding world, it’s all about him. As he grows older the parent’s job is to socialize him. If they don’t, beware.
משלי פרק יג פסוק כד חושך שבטו שונא בנו ואהבו שחרו מוסר
“He who spares the rod hates his child but he who loves him disciplines him well.”
Really nothing more needs to be said.
ואל המיתו אל תשא נפשך משלי פרק יט פסוק יח יסר בנך כי יש תקוה
“Chasten your child for there is hope and do not burden your spirit with his noisy wailing.”
It is not even pain that you are looking for. Rather you are showing your child your disappointment and displeasure. Often a light tap on the wrist or cheek suffices. When they are a little older a solid whack on the posterior will do. Remember that a diaper provides a lot of padding. Children fall regularly on their behinds and feel no pain.
משלי פרק כב פסוק ו חנך לנער על פי דרכו גם כי יזקין לא יסור ממנה:
“Educate your children according to the child’s way so when you age he will not depart from you.”
Another way to translate the Pasuk is “Raise your child according to his needs…”
The rare child only needs to be spoken to. For others a ‘time-out’ may work, or a ‘go-to-bed-without-supper’. Most could use a good Potch now and again. If the situation warrants, corporal punishment is the way to go.
משלי פרק כב פסוק טו אולת קשורה בלב נער שבט מוסר ירחיקנה ממנו:
“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child but the rod of discipline will drive it out of him.”
That “foolishness” presents itself as Chutzpa and misbehavior. Without sufficient punishment the child quickly learns he can get away with anything.
Children are naturally manipulative. Give a child an inch and he will soon have the whole mile!
משלי פרק כג פסוק יג אל תמנע מנער מוסר כי תכנו בשבט לא ימות:
“Do not withhold moral discipline from a child, though you beat him with a rod he will not die.”
Note that Shlomo HaMelech equates discipline with corporal punishment.
משלי פרק כג פסוק יד אתה בשבט תכנו ונפשו משאול תציל:
“You will beat him with a rod and will save his soul from the netherworld.”
משלי פרק כו פסוק ג שוט לסוס מתג לחמור ושבט לגו כסילים:
“A whip for the horse, a bridle for the mule and a rod for the backs of fools.”
משלי פרק כט פסוק טו שבט ותוכחת יתן חכמה ונער משלח מביש אמו:
“The rod and reproof bring wisdom but a child left free brings shame to his mother.”
That “left free” means permissiveness and indulgence. Just look at all of the children who have gone off the Derech. Is this not bringing shame to their mothers?
משלי פרק כט פסוק יז יסר בנך ויניחך ויתן מעדנים לנפשך:
“Discipline your son and he will bring you rest and will delight your soul.”
Don’t discipline your children and there may be hell to pay.
These sentiments are mirrored in the Gemora.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת קידושין דף ל עמוד א
א”ל רבא לר’ נתן בר אמי: אדידך על צוארי דבריך, משיתסר ועד עשרים ותרתי, ואמרי לה: מתמני סרי עד עשרים וארבעה. כתנאי: חנוך לנער על פי דרכו – ר’ יהודה ורבי נחמיה, חד אמר: משיתסר ועד עשרים ותרתין, וחד אמר: מתמני סרי ועד עשרים וארבעה.
“Rava said to R’Nosson Bar Ami, “While your hand still prevails over the neck of your son, make certain to guide him with ethical principles.” (When is this time?) “From 16 until he is 22.” Some say from 18 to 24.”
תלמוד בבלי מסכת מועד קטן דף יז עמוד א
דאמתא דבי רבי חזיתיה לההוא גברא דהוה מחי לבנו גדול, אמרה: ליהוי ההוא גברא בשמתא, דקעבר משום ולפני עור לא תתן מכשל. דתניא: ולפני עור לא תתן מכשל – במכה לבנו גדול הכתוב מדבר.
“A maidservant of Rebbe’s house once saw a certain man striking his grown son. She said, “Let this man be excommunicated. He has sinned because of the prohibition of “You shall not put a stumbling block before the blind. “For it was taught in a Braisa “You shall not put…” This verse is speaking of a man who strikes his grown son.
The Rishonim bring all of this as normative Halacha.
The Bais Yosef in Yora Deah 40 says
בית יוסף יורה דעה סימן רמ
ומ”ש והמכה לבנו גדול מנדין אותו וכו’. פרק אלו מגלחין (מו”ק יז.). ובן כמה שנים נקרא גדול לענין זה אכתוב בסימן של”ד (רפג: ד”ה י”ז המכשיל העור) בס”דו:
One who hits his grown son is doing an Aveira. Not so one who hits a younger child.
The Shulchan Aruch , Yora Deah 240 sif 19 & 20
שולחן ערוך יורה דעה
הלכות כבוד אב ואם סימן רמ סעיף יט
ל] אסור לאדם להכביד עולו על בניו ולדקדק בכבודו עמהם, שלא יביאם לידי מכשול, אלא ימחול ויעלים עיניו מהם, שהאב (טז) שמחל על כבודו, כבודו מחול.
“It is forbidden for a man to place a heavy burden on his children and to be punctilious with his honor on them. He should forgive his honor and raise their eyes to him. A father who forgives his honor, his honor is forgiven.”
שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות כבוד אב ואם סימן רמ סעיף כ
המכה לבנו גדול, היו מנדין אותו, שהרי עובר על לפני עור לא תתן מכשול (ויקרא יט, יד). לא] ולא מקרי גדול לדבר זה, רק (יז) אחר כא כ”ב שנה או כ”ד שנה (בקונטרס פ”ק דקדושין וב”י ס”ס של”ד).
The Shulchan Aruch Poskens L’Halacha that you can’t hit your child after 22 or 24 years old.
Your job as parent is essentially over by the time your child is eight. If you have disciplined him at an early age, you will find that the teenage years are not such a burden. There will certainly be no reason to have to punish a twenty year old.
Okay now, what about all those Rabbis, even a few Gedolim, who say that spanking is prohibited. They maintain that it may have worked years ago but doesn’t work in today’s social climate. They may even go further, claiming that the recidivism rate is one result of corporal punishment. So what they are really saying is that permissiveness and indulgence does work. So how come so many kids are going off the Derech?
During the Haskala people went off the Derech for an “ism”: Communism, Bundism, Zionism. They were attempting to make a better life for themselves and escape the grinding poverty and anti-Semitism surrounding them.
What’s going on today?
The legacy of no-spanking has left us in utter disarray. Twenty-five or thirty years ago one could safely say that 100% of Bais Yaakov girls were virgins. Sadly, this is no longer true. Drugs are common in both the best Yeshivos and Bais Yaakoves. Children are exposed to pornography. When I was in Yeshiva in the 60s, alcohol was not an issue. Not so today. Divorce has become common. Pre-marital and extra-marital sex is widespread. Although there are no statistics to back up these assertions, for obvious reasons, speak to the students of any Yeshiva or Bais Yaakove. If you think this is not the case your head is in the sand. Wake up! It’s your children who will be exposed to all of this.
No child ever went off the Derech from a spanking, period! I would say just the opposite. Those children who are spanked grow up with a well-developed sense of Kavod. Remember an important child-rearing clue. The beginning of Kavod is Pachad – fear. Not knee shaking, quaking in your boots fear. Just a healthy sense that there are authority figures that must be listened to. There are real rules in life.
Actions have consequences. The sooner a child learns this the better off he will be. Also life ain’t fair. Get your child used to it.
Unfortunately, most parents have simply abrogated their parental responsibilities. It is almost as if they assume that either the children are capable of raising themselves or, perhaps, they figure that the school will do the job for them.
Somehow, adults today assume that children have the same rights and privileges as adults. Laws are passed giving children various rights. However, nothing can be farther from the truth. Even modern society recognizes that a child has to have grown up before qualifying for a driver’s license, marriage license or hunting license. A child can’t sue someone in court, join the military or get a credit card in his own name. A child cannot buy or sell property, take out a bank loan, or decide to leave home (runaways are returned home). A contract with a child will not stand up in court. Although, generally a child cannot be sued, his parents can be sued for his damages etc. Within Halacha, a child has no credibility.
All of this is for a reason. Rights are granted to those who are responsible for their actions. Children are not deemed responsible.
Research has shown that a child cannot appreciate consequences, which is why teenagers make such lousy decisions.
I recently saw an anti-corporal punishment article stating that those who are spanked grow up to be violent adults. Were this true my entire generation and all those who are older would be convicted felons!!! What might possibly be true is that those who were constantly severely beaten and abused may grow up to be violent. We’re not advocating beatings. We’re anti child abuse. We do favor responsible parenting.
Parenting rule #1 – Your children are your responsibility, no one else’s. The school will not spend 10 minutes through high school in teaching your children to be Mentchen.
Rule #2 –Remember this – If you make a mistake baking a chocolate cake, and put in salt instead of sugar, you will get some pretty immediate feedback – Yechh. Should you make a mistake in child rearing, you won’t find out about it for 10 or 15 years and then it is way too late. You can’t raise a 15 year old!

We may, therefor, conclude that corporal punishment is not subject to the whims of current child psychology gurus. We are not to follow the dictates of academia or be blinded by the ephemeral winds of “progressive” society.
We have a Mesora! We can also plainly see what has happened to this “progressive” society. If you think there is nothing wrong with society today, carefully reevaluate your assumptions. Your perspective is flawed and your priorities are wrong. You need to understand the nature of the relationship between parent and child.
When your toddler is misbehaving, it is up to you to set boundaries. If you don’t set the rules, no one is going to do it for you. It is incumbent on you to set high standards for yourself as well as your children.

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