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

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.

  • 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

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

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.

  • 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

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.

  • 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
  • @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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