Corporal Punishment of Children by Their Parents Under Jewish Law
Pelilim, Tel Aviv Law Review on Criminal Law, Vol. 10, pp. 365-446, 2002 (Hebrew)
42 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2009 Last revised: 29 Dec 2014
Date Written: 2002
Unlike what many in the public believe, the approach of Jewish Law to the issue of corporal punishment against children cannot be summed up with the verse: “Who does not activate his stick towards his son (to educate him), necessarily hates him." At the same time, the verdicts of the Supreme Court of Israel over the last few years, which have forbidden almost unequivocally the use of any form of corporal punishment, do not necessarily contradict the approach of Jewish Law, or at least not sweepingly. There are different interpretations of the verses in the Book of Proverbs, although we cannot ignore the simple interpretation that deals with spanking children in order to educate them. Nevertheless, the Book of Proverbs is a complementary source and not a normative one. From the halachic-normative sources, as well as from the complementary sources, we can see that the corporal punishment, while not fundamentally forbidden in the Jewish Law, is not an obligation nor a positive commandment but rather a way and a means of implementing an obligation (the command of education and reprimand of a parent towards his child). This permission is given only within the bounds of moderation, and it is limited very strictly by many qualifications coming from two sources. One source is the ineffectualness of using this method of education in some situations, and the other is consideration of the rights of the child. Thus the implementation of this means is very difficult in practice. In the last few generations, beside the traditional-conservative trend, which insists upon allowing corporal punishment in all forms, there has arisen a modern trend (which is comprised mainly from the fields of morality and education, but had its first signs in the judicial literature) that tries to consider the latest changes in the issue. The modern trend limits the permission to use corporal punishment against children more than the traditional-conservative trend does, and it calls for use of this permission only with moderation, and as last option, or not at all. In this manner, the modern trend effectively empties the permission to use corporal punishment of meaning. Nevertheless, the modern trend, as well as the traditional-conservative one, does not support a legal ban on the use of corporal punishment, and I doubt it will do so in the near future (although there are halachic means to do so). This solution seems easy and practical, but in fact it does not deal with the daily dilemmas that arise in the field of education. Nevertheless, the sources show us that Jewish Law in this issue is much more complex than what the public tends to believe, and the modern law does not, generally, contradict the Jewish Law on this issue, at least not as widely as one might think. On the contrary, the modern and Israeli Law can, in fact, learn from the principles and contents of Jewish Law, and draw inspiration from it to apply to real issues existing with handling corporal punishment to this day.
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