Corporal Punishment of Children in Jewish Law
Jewish Law Annual, Vol. 18, pp. 137-212, 2010
38 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2009 Last revised: 29 Dec 2014
Date Written: November 27, 2009
“He who spares his rod hates his son but he who loves him is diligent to chastise him.” This verse from the book of Proverbs (13:24) is the first association for many regarding the corporal punishment of children as an educational means, especially within the context of Jewish law. The objectives of the article are: (1) To point out that in this matter the attitude of Jewish law, since time immemorial, consists more of the traditional approach that is known and commonly accepted by the public and by scholars. For example, it does not demand the use of physical force in education, just as it does not obligate one to use any other specific method of education; (2) To present the two trends of Jewish law with regard to corporal punishment: the conservative-traditional and the modern trends. The article shows that Jewish law developed a code of vast and sprawling educational rules for parents and educators, a set of instructions and guidelines that extends its attention to every detail by directing parents and educators to fulfill the obligation of educating the child. Jewish law chooses to confront the real daily problems in education. The conservative-traditional trend permits the use of corporal punishment but qualifies it heavily by a series of reservations in order to find the right and proper balance between the rights of the child and the fear of injury on one hand, and the effectiveness of the punishment under given circumstances on the other. The modern trend, which has developed in the last generation, acts to narrow the license of corporal punishment, in addition to the limitations already imposed upon it by the conservative-traditional trend; (3) To examine how a religious and exterritorial legal system, whose central roots and sources are thousands of years old, coexists with a modern legal system, speaks the same language, and is capable of absorbing ideas, principles, and practical legal solutions that apply to this loaded and controversial matter. The article examines attitude of Jewish law toward worldwide changes that occurred over the years in human rights in general and children’s rights in particular, with respect to corporal punishment. Jewish law is compared to modern legal systems, including those in the U.S., Canada, UK, Scandinavian countries, Austria, Germany, Israel, and Cyprus.
Analyzing the sources enables us to understand the attitude of Jewish law toward corporal punishment. We find that some of the solutions or principles that Jewish law offers can also be adopted by non-religious legal systems. The article shows that it is possible to assess in one breath religious and secular legal systems in order to solve universal problems that exist in every society and must be addressed by all legal systems.
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