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Shemos Rabbah (Shemos parsha 1) and a gemara in Makos (8a) both seem to indicate that physically striking a child/student is a positive thing to do in terms of discipline/education.

My question is: what are the opinions of Rabbis writing from about 1950 until now on this subject?

(I am interested in recent opinions since they would reflect a position based on modern society [assuming that a halachic decision would include such a consideration])

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    Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/29796 and this article by Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin. – Fred Jun 10 '14 at 22:36
  • Dina d'malchuta says no, because in many countries it is illegal to patsch your kid. – Noach MiFrankfurt Jun 11 '14 at 13:36
  • @NoachmiFrankfurt Source? – Gavriel Jun 11 '14 at 14:09
  • In the US, at least in Massachusetts where I live, it is illegal to strike a child, furthermore, this is true in Israel, much of Central Europe, Spain, et c. See linked map: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanking#mediaviewer/… – Noach MiFrankfurt Jun 11 '14 at 16:37
  • Thanks for that. What I meant was, however, from where do you know that dina demalchusa has any application on this particular subject? – Gavriel Jun 11 '14 at 18:43
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Rav Shlome Wolbe in his sefer זריעה ובניין בחינוך pg. 24 writes, that we do not hit anymore, because of lifnei iver the son might hit back, even at a young age and it also can ruin a relationship.

There is an Igros Moshe YD 1:140 which his son Rav Dovid asked. There is also an Igros Moshe YD 4:30:4 which discusses what a rebbi and what a father may do . A rebbi is not allowed to have a stick to even threaten or to hit and hurt the child. For a father, he quotes the Rambam Hilchos Talmud Torah 2:2 regarding a small strap. He writes that makkos achzorios (vicious) is forbidden.

The point is that it is for the child's benefit and in no way is it an excuse to let out anger, rather to keep the child in the right path, and certainly not to be done in a harsh way.

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  • As the gemara states (Bava Basra 21a), "If you strike a child, only strike with a shoelace" ("וא"ל רב לרב שמואל בר שילת כי מחית לינוקא לא תימחי אלא בערקתא דמסנא"). – Fred Mar 11 '15 at 18:55
  • It seems this quote attributed the Reb Volbe is built off the Ramma, but the Ramma was specifically taking about an adult child. Something seems lost in attribution here. – user6591 Apr 24 at 20:33
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Rav Yaakov Weinberg, speaking about חושך שבטו שונא בנו (one who spares the rod hates his child), said that this needs to be understood with the caveat that the "rod" means whatever will be effective in disciplining the child, and that if a stern look would suffice then giving a "patch" is being cruel, and if positive reinforcement would work then a stern look would be cruel.

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    "whatever will be effective", "would suffice", "would work". It seems to me that these goals (if you could call them that) are so vague that this quote is practically useless. The only thing I could gain from this is that according to Rav Weinberg 'shivto' can be understood differently to the "classic" understanding. – Gavriel Jun 11 '14 at 14:28
  • @Gabi If you think R' Weinberg should have an interview with everyone's individual children before making a statement that could be tailored to each child, then I guess you would have a point? R' Weinberg was saying that "hitting" is not justified unless it is necessary, nor is anything justified unless nothing less would work. You will still have to know your own child, sorry. – Y     e     z Jun 11 '14 at 17:21
  • Sorry, I was unclear. What I meant was that it's unclear what goal he is referring to. For instance if the goal of hitting according to classical sources is to teach submission or that the father is the authority then Rav Weinberg's pshat is hard for me to understand. He seems to feel that hitting was simply a way to get the child to do what the parent wanted and not to teach any particular point. – Gavriel Jun 11 '14 at 18:42
  • @Gabi I think he understood the point of hitting was to train the child to do what is best for him. You get him to do it through whatever means, and he will learn to do it. You teach him that there are consequences for actions (consequences can be good or bad). You aren't teaching him that life is painful. – Y     e     z Jun 11 '14 at 18:45
  • That makes sense to me, although I don't think the alternative has to be teaching him that life is painful. – Gavriel Jun 11 '14 at 21:49
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R' Shimon Schwab, "On Being a Friend to Your Children," address at Torah Umesorah, 1990, printed in Selected Speeches (CIS)

There is no getting away from it! "Mussar" also derives from the word יסורים and that means, in our case, corporal punishment. Don't get me wrong. I do not mean spanking or caning, which was practiced by some parents and teachers when I went to school. First of all, as long as parents are angry they are not supposed to hit their children. [...]

The second rule is to introduce punishment by saying in a normal voice, "I am very sad about what you did, and I am sorry to have to hit you on your hands in order to take away from you the aveirah you did." The purpose of hitting is not to hurt the child but to help him atone for his wrongdoing by causing him to feel ashamed. Therefore, hitting should never be done in front of others, including siblings.

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  • Very interesting. I would love to know what source R' Schwab was working off of with this idea, i.e. that we are supposed to cause some sort of negative feeling in someone to help them atone. Do we see such an idea elsewhere? – Gavriel Jun 11 '14 at 14:17
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I asked Rabbi Zev Leff about this once, telling him the psychiatrists claims that it just makes the kid worse, etc.

He thought for a moment and replied with a disappointed look, "the reason it doesn't work today is because we have too many psychiatrists."

Hence, there are times when it is proper, just that it might not work today due to so many crazy ideas floating around.

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  • I assume what you say Rav Leff responded means: many ideas have become popularized and known and due to this the nature of children has changed such that hitting is counterproductive. However this is a secondary position and the better position to be in would be where hitting would be effective. ---I would love it if you could give examples of these crazy ideas. – Gavriel Jun 11 '14 at 14:41
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    @Gabi there's definitely a place for hitting. not just for kids, but for men too, as we see 39 lashes or the leviim beat up for dozing off, and many other places. the artscroll book "reb mendel" says people used to be able to bear pain and they grew better from it. today people just want ice cream. – ray Jun 11 '14 at 17:58
  • 39 lashes are a prescribed by beis din after paskening the halacha for an individual and that's an entirely different story. There is a lot to talk about before we can draw parallels between physical harm dealt out by a beis din and the halachos of a parent hitting a child. And with regards to your other source of the leviim, I'm not familiar with that idea. And your last point seems to be a somewhat popular one (albeit with different explanations as to how it came to be) that we are now physically/emotionally/psychologically softer or weaker. – Gavriel Jun 11 '14 at 18:48
  • @Gabi its not my point. i just quoted rabbi leff you may not respect his view but i do – ray Jun 11 '14 at 20:28
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    I understand that it's Rav Leff's position and not yours and as an aside I respect Rav Leff as a tremendous talmud chacham and ba'al middos. I have listened to many of his shiurim and I identify with his approach to Torah and the world in general. However what I'm trying to do here is understand his reasoning and thought process behind his answer and not take it at face value as a 'cutesy' answer. In a sense that itself is being very respectful to Rav Leff. – Gavriel Jun 11 '14 at 21:46
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All the answer so far are great - here is a (hopefully) comprehensive answer. My argument leans towards the more modern thinking that hitting should ideally be avoided and I have highlighted modern thought along with some older sources to bring out the idea - I apologise if some sources above are repeated:

By way of introduction, Shlomo Hamelech in (משלי יג:כד) writes:

“חושך שבטו שונא בנו ואהבו שחרו מוסר”

“One who spares his stick hates his child, but he who loves him disciplines him in his youth.”

This source provides the foundation for the ongoing discussion of whether it is correct to hit a child. רבינו יונה interprets the פסוק to mean that one who truly loves his child chastises him without delay. If one lets the child’s misdeed go without telling them swiftly about their wrongdoing it makes the child believe that they are free to act in an unbecoming manner. For this reason, שלמה המלך advises to take action as soon as possible. If this comes through administering a potsch then it is praiseworthy because without acting in this way it will only serve to spoil the child, allowing further room for misbehaviour. Certainly, Rav Dessler זצ״ל is a firm proponent of this view, seeing hitting as an important educational tool (See מכתב מאליהו, חלק ג, 'חנוך הבנים – בענין הכאת הבנים', עמ' 360).

However, Rav Dessler’s opinion is based on the need to increase הכנעה – humility and submission in a child. He states that if a child is raised with this vital מדה of humility, hitting him will not teach him to be violent to others. It is only when children are brought up to be independent that smacking them will cause them to hit. One could argue that nowadays it is very rare to find the submissive culture that was once inherent within child-rearing. Therefore, perhaps in today’s independence-giving society even Rav Dessler would have condemned hitting. Indeed, Rav Avrohom Pam זצ״ל believed that hitting children was something that a person should distance oneself from, equating the people of older generations to metal vessels. When a vessel of this material becomes unclean, one pours boiling water over it, (akin to severe castigation), and in so doing the vessel emerges glistening and unsoiled. Yet these days, we are more like earthenware vessels. If one pours boiling water on such a vessel, the result will be a mere mud-spattered residue. (עטרה למלך, 'לימים נוראים: הרהורים בענין התשובה', עמוד קעה. Also note HoRav Gamliel Rabinowitz שליט״א, renowned Rosh Yeshiva of Shaar HaShemayim, in his sefer – טיב התורה, פרשת וירא (כב:ז), 'גם האב צריך להקפיד על כבוד בנו', עמוד רפד. Rav Rabinowitz says that in earlier generation אמונה was passed on to children via ‘the stick’, but nowadays to really succeed in חינוך, teaching must be conferred in completely the opposite manner, imbued with constant love and honour.) The implication is clear. In previous generations, rebuke was more effective when it came through the medium of a timely smack, but today, such action is likely to be harmful.

Thus the notion of hitting children has been seen as being increasingly more detrimental than positive, and various gedolim have understood the פסוק of "חושך שבטו שונא בנו" to have more symbolic undertones. Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg זצ״ל explains the word “שבטו” – “his stick” not to mean a cane with which to beat the child, but rather a promptly-timed rebuke. When a child does something wrong, a parent must be quick to provide a clear-cut admonition – this is using his שבט. If however a parent lets the moment pass, viewing it with an almost blasé interest, then he is being "שונא בנו" – “hating his son”. The key therefore, is to be cognisant of a child’s actions and to be ready to educate them should the occasion arise when reproach is necessary. If one takes care to act in this way, the child will learn the lesson quickly. Hence, R’ Weinberg concludes, “The purpose of ‘shivto’ is not to make it painful, but to make it clear that what was done is unbearable.”(See Rabbi Doniel Frank, Rav Yaakov Weinberg Talks about Chinuch, (Targum Press – 2006) pp. 43-45 as well as מצודת דוד on this פסוק).

In much the same way, the מסילת ישרים tells us offenders should always be reprimanded, but it should be done without anger and channelled with the sole intention to set them on the right path. In cases when anger is unavoidable, it should be “כעס הפנים לא כעס הלב” – “Anger of the face and not anger of the heart” (מסילת ישרים – פרטי הנקיות). The רמב״ם echoes this sentiment by advising that a person should make himself, “כאדם שהוא מדמה כועס בשעת כעסו והוא אינו כעס” – “Like a person who appears angry but is not actually angry” (משנה תורה הלכות דעות פרק ב משנה ג). This means to say that any anger that is vented must be done externally, accompanied with sound mind and clear educational connotations. Therefore, when addressing the above חז"ל to “strike the child immediately”, the stress is less on the striking itself, but more on the timing. It has to be quick, so that the child is not constantly fearful of a forthcoming punishment as well learning the lesson instantly. (קצור שלחן ערוך סימן קסה סעיף ז)

Hitting children is something that has a further issue that one must be weary of. The גמרא warns parents to be cautious not to hit their children for fear that they might encourage their child to hit back. The גמרא reads:

"דאמתא דבי רבי חזיתיה לההוא גברא דהוה מחי לבנו גדול אמרה ליהוי ההוא גברא בשמתא דקעבר משום ולפני עור לא תתן מכשול דתניא ולפני עור לא תתן מכשול במכה לבנו גדול"

“The maidservant of Rebbi Yehuda HaNasi saw a man beating his mature son. She said: This man should be banned because he transgresses the prohibition of placing a stumbling block before the blind. For indeed we are taught in a Beraisa: You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind, this verse refers to a man who hits his mature son.” (מסכת מועד קטן יז.)

It would seem from the גמרא that if a parent hits their child they are creating the potential for the child to strike back, which will result in that child violating an אסור דאורייתא. Rashi notes that although the child may rebel and sin, the responsibility lies with the parent. Ultimately, if the parent were to exercise more control, the child will not learn the art of retaliation and will gain greater respect for their parent. However, it is important to note, how old we deem a “בנו גדול” – “mature son”? The שלחן ערוך brings this scenario down in הלכה (see שלחן ערוך יורה דעה רמ:כ) and the רמ״א says that this refers to a son aged 22 or 24 years old (The רמ״א bases his psak on the גמרא in .קידושין ל. The מהרש״ל in the first פרק of קדושין – סימן ס״ח writes that this ban can only be passed from age 24 years, but even still, is אסור from 22 years.). The ריטב״א goes one stage further. He notes that when the גמרא refers to a בנו גדול it is not necessarily a גדול, if a young child is of the disposition to respond in a similar fashion then the איסור extends to him as well. (The ריטב״א concludes, “ומשום דאורחא דמילתא דבגדול שכיח כי הוא נקט גדול” – Since such a scenario is more likely to happen with a גדול that is why the גמרא uses the term “גדול”) R’ Wolbe adds that in this present day, if one even hits a three year old, the likelihood is that they too will hit you back! (ספר זריעה ובנין בחינוך, 'ענישה', עמוד כה) It would seem therefore, that hitting children definitely has its pitfalls. The last thing you want to do is something that will encourage your child to be violent.

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