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Domestic CP - February 2000

Jerusalem Post, 3 February 2000


The fifth Shulchan Aruch

Chaim Budnick writes:

It is told that one of the greatest rabbis refused to grant judgeship to a brilliant student. When questioned about this refusal, he rationalized his decision as follows; true, this student knows the four parts of Shulchan Aruch backwards and forewards, the problem is that he has no knowledge of the fifth Shulchan Aruch. The questioners then said; but the Shulchan Aruch has ONLY four parts. He answered; true, the written and established Shulchan Aruch has only four parts, but paramount is common sense, the "Fifth Shulchan Aruch".

Evidently, the powers that select our judges do not take this into consideration; proof of this being the recent decisions rendered by some supreme court justices regarding the use of coporal punishment used by parents against their children. This decision displays a total lack of common sense, if not utter stupidity.

The rabbis of the Talmud and the later commentaries including Maimonides who noone can accuse of being either stupidity or of lacking common sense, explicitly view corporal punishment as a valid and at times essential element of child education. Certainly, there are restrictions and terms under which corporal punishment can and should be used, and certainly the corporal punishment should never be excessive or violently brutal, but in the correct circumstances and within the correct boundaries, coporal punishment is not only condoned but rather prescribed.

The contention that any law not blanketly prohibiting any and all uses of corporal punishment by parents against children would be difficult if not impossible to judicate, is absurd. Unless of course the justice rendering this decision, who so blatantly lacks any evidence of common sense, finds it impossible to fathom other justices having better abilities.

I only hope that the judiciary system as whole does have more common sense than this justice.

© 1995-2000, The Jerusalem Post - All rights reserved

Jerusalem Post, 3 February 2000


Some Supreme Court Justices Should Be Spanked

Macabee Dean of Ramat Gan writes:

The Supreme Court's blanket condemnation of spanking is astounding since it assumes that all children are born equal.

The Supreme Court assumes there are better methods of educating brats to behave. Of course, there are. But who will teach them? Who will provide the necessary and terribly expensive financial means to set up the proper frameworks?

Our corrupt politicians who set the moral standards of our society? Our grossly underpaid teachers? Our shrinks who need more than a bit of head adjustment themselves? Our journalists who change their mind daily in "keeping up with the news?"

Some children should be spanked; others should never be spanked. Each child is an individual and should be treated as such.

Violence may be a plague, as the Supreme Court ruled. Yet, don't we all cringe because several million Jews went to thegas chambers without putting up a struggle? Maybe their violent resistance might not have changed their fate, but it would have made us feel a bit prouder. Violence has its uses.

The Supreme Court no doubt would hand down a blanket judgment against assassination.

Yet, I'm sure that each and every one of our esteemed justices would, during the early Nazi regime, have given his right arm if he could put a dum-dum bullet in Hitler's head.

No, I take that back.

He/she would have given both an arm and a leg and then said: "It was well worth it. I've saved millions of lives". A monument would have been raised in his/her honor.

There is a time and place for everything. There are times when a tyrant needs to be assassinated; when a child needs a spanking. The problem is that parents often need the spanking more than their child.

And this also goes for all too many of our politicians, our policemen, our teachers, our doctors, our bus drivers, our rabbis, our social workers, and so on, and yes, with all due respect, Their Honors, our Supreme Court Justices.

© 1995-2000, The Jerusalem Post - All rights reserved

Jerusalem Post, 8 February 2000

Spank no more

By Herb Keinon

The Supreme Court recently upheld a child-abuse verdict, and in the process took a wide swipe at corporal punishment in the home.

A front-page headline in Yediot Aharonot last week - "Supreme Court: Parents are forbidden to even lightly smack their children" - looked as if it came from a Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-style drama about childhood fantasies. One almost expected to turn the page and see an article announcing a new law banning Brussels sprouts, or a story about legislation mandating two scoops of ice cream after every meal.

For kids throughout the land, this court decision must have set off thoughts of "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last."

For many parents, on the other hand, the decision probably left them wondering, "If I can't occasionally spank my child, how am I to discipline?"

What Supreme Court Justice Dorit Beinisch did, in writing the majority opinion that rejected an appeal in a child-abuse case, was to go way beyond the case at hand and set a societal norm. She also sparked agitated debate - political and around the dinner table - about the merits of physical punishment as a child-rearing tool.

What she didn't do is rule - in contrast to what could be gleaned from the Yediot headline - that every parent who spanks his/her child will be brought up on criminal charges.

"In the judicial, social and educational circumstances in which we live, we must not make compromises that can endanger the welfare and physical well-being of minors," Beinisch writes. "We must also take into account that we are living in a society where violence is spreading like a plague, and permission for light violence could deteriorate into more severe violence. There can be no endangering of the physical and emotional well-being of the child through any kind of physical violence.

"The norm has to be clear and unequivocal that physical punishment is not permissible. Children are not the property of the parent and it is forbidden to use them as punching bags," Beinisch continues.

"Punishment that causes pain or humiliation is completely forbidden and is a hold-over from an educational and social philosophy whose time has passed. It does not contribute to the character of children or to their education, and damages their bodies, feelings, honor and development. It [corporal punishment] distances us from our yearning to be a society free of violence."

THE COURT was ruling on the appeal of a mother convicted of brutal treatment and assault of a minor, for hitting and slapping her children and, in two specific cases, hitting her daughter with a vacuum cleaner and punching her son in the face, thereby breaking his tooth.

Beinisch and Supreme Court President Aharon Barak rejected the appeal, while Justice Izhak Englard ruled that the woman had not used brutality against her children.

While unequivocally frowning on physical punishment, Beinisch made it clear that the court's intent is not to press charges against everyone who spanks his child once in a while. Beinisch wrote that there are "filters" in the law that will ensure that in "light cases" parents will not be held criminally responsible. The court's decision also allows for use of physical force in situations where the child may be endangering himself or others.

If that is the case, then why the lengthy discussion on corporal punishment?

"Legislation and judicial decisions don't exist only to put offenders in jail," says Yitzhak Kadman, head of the National Council for the Child. "They also exist to create norms and tell the public what is forbidden and permitted, what is proper and improper behavior."

According to Kadman, the intention of the ruling "is not to turn parents into criminals, or put a policeman in front of every door and create a situation where parents who hit their kids in a fit of anger once every five years will be brought to trial."

Rather, he says, the ruling is significant for its declarative value, for setting norms, for saying that hitting or spanking one's child is wrong, period.

Although Kadman applauds such an effort - an effort which puts Israel on near par with several Scandinavian and European countries which have actually legislated against corporal punishment - not everyone is so thrilled.

Naomi Baum, a child psychologist and director of psychological services for the Gush Etzion Regional Council, says she has a problem with such a sweeping declaration.

"There are not a whole lot of situations where giving a spanking is acceptable, but I believe there are some," says Baum. "As a rule I think that it is important to punish kids without resorting to physical punishment, but to say that at all times it is absolutely forbidden, I have a hard time with that."

According to Baum, the court is basically telling the parents how to be parents. "There is no question that we have a long way to go in dealing with child abuse in this country, but I don't think the way to do it is by telling the parents you can never hit your kid," she says.

"I think there are lots of different ways of raising children. I don't think that what is right for me is necessarily right for you. People have to find the right way for them, and to tell parents at all times that they can't ever hit their child may be excessive."

Baum, a consultant for a family Web site called, says she believes most parents know when their spanking is getting out of hand. "A good yardstick to use is to ask yourself whether you are hitting your child because you are angry, or because you think it is the best punishment you can give your kid.

"If you are doing it because you are angry, you are certainly not doing the right thing because there is always the risk that if you are angry you might lose control - and if you feel you might lose control, don't do it; separate yourself from your kid, move away."

Baum says there are many other more effective ways of discipline, but by ruling out spanking she says the court is not taking a "comprehensive approach" to the issue.

According to Baum, Beinisch should also have written in the same breath that "children have to remember that parents are their parents. What the court is doing is undermining to some degree the authority of the parents in the family. I know this is not their intent, but in practice that is what is happening."

AMOS Rolider, chairman of the Behavioral Sciences Department at the Jezreel Valley College, says that in recent years children, both at home and at school, have had their rights reinforced, while the ability of teachers and parents to enforce discipline and rules has been curtailed.

The end product, he says, is parents who don't know how to set limits for their children, and children who have little respect for the authority of parents and teachers - something that bears some responsibility for the worrisome increase in societal violence.

"In principle I agree that physical punishment is not good, and should be avoided. That is good common sense," Rolider says. "But at the same time, we need punishments for educational purposes."

According to Rolider, "there are some kids that if the father looks in their eyes and says, 'Son, I am disappointed in you, don't do it again, this type of behavior is inappropriate and will harm you,' then that will do the trick. And there are others for whom that is not enough, not effective."

In these cases, Rolider maintains that there may be no other choice than to apply some physical pressure, though he says the child should be restrained or held, not hit.

"To smack a child because the parent is frustrated, or to lift a hand because of something that happened to the parent at work, is obviously unacceptable behavior," Rolider says. "But I say that there are situations where parents need a suitable reaction to extreme behavior, and that is to hold the child and tell him - no.

"The trend that the children have all the rights, and the adults are losing theirs, is not necessarily a trend that is for the good of the child," he says.

"We have to look and see what is more dangerous - the fact that there are no parental limits, something which can lead to violent and antisocial behavior on the part of some kids, or the chance that the child will learn aggressive behavior because his parents use physical punishment."

Kadman, however, likens the argument of using physical pressure to set limits so children don't become violent, to someone who wants to put out a fire by throwing a pail of gasoline on it.

"This is absurd," he says. "Research done in the US shows that children punished physically were many times more violent to their classmates and siblings than those who were not hit. And it is clear why this is so.

"A child doesn't learn proper behavior from a civics class in school. Most of the learning is done from mimicking the behavior of the significant adults in his life. So why, if he gets a slap when he bothers someone, can't he react similarly when his brother takes his toy?

"Just as it is impossible to lecture against smoking while having a cigarette dangling from your mouth, so too is it impossible for a parent to educate against violence when it is used in the home. One thing contradicts the other."

KADMAN says that the ruling does not place the court against setting limits, or discipline. "We are in favor of limits, of parents and teachers teaching what is good and bad. But we are saying not to do that with blows because that humiliates and hurts the kid, but does nothing to help him internalize the message. The only thing that you learn from a smack is to be afraid of the person who hit you - you don't internalize anything that person is trying to teach."

Most parents who hit their children occasionally admit it was done when they lost control, and not after they sat down and thought out whether it was the best way to get a particular message across, Kadman says.

Shimon Kahn, who teaches 22 three-year-olds in a Jerusalem preschool, agrees that there is no justification for hitting. Yet, he says, if the court wants to take away one of what some parents consider a disciplinary or educational tool, it should provide the parents with something in its stead.

"If we are taking this right away," he says, "maybe we need to provide workshops for parents on how to discipline. Maybe every parent who registers their child in an Education Ministry preschool should, once or twice, be required to come to an hour-long workshop on discipline."

An interesting idea, especially considering that hitting is so easy, and that those who grew up being spanked may need guidelines on other ways to keep their children in line.

"A smack is easy and fast," says Kadman, "too easy. It is much more difficult to have to sit down with children and explain things to them.

"Many parents today don't have time for their kids, they can't sit with them and explain why something is good, and something else is bad; or what the ramifications of their actions are. It is much easier to give a slap. They don't have to talk or communicate. It is a shortcut, but in education there are no shortcuts."

   © 1995-2000, The Jerusalem Post - All rights reserved,

Jerusalem Post, 10 February 2000

Think Again

Child rearing is too important for the courts

By Jonathan Rosenblum

Refuting the legal analysis underlying the Supreme Court's recent ban on spanking is not difficult.

The court itself barely offered any legal reasoning. It contented itself with quoting the title of the 1992 Basic Law on the Dignity of Man, and stating the obvious: children are human beings, too.

The court's social science was no more convincing. Here it was content with a half-page string citation of authorities, without even deigning to tell us what they say. Justice Dorit Beinisch seems blithely unaware that the pendulum has swung once again on the issue of physical punishment (as it is wont to do in such matters).

A number of recent studies have come to the conclusion that moderate physical punishment can be an effective educational tool and is not harmful to children.

Beinisch's entire argument against any physical punishment was that anyone who spanks their child even once may become a child abuser - a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. She assumes, without support, that every parental spanking is a microcosm of what child abusers do on a continuous basis. But that is false. The means, intent, and psychological makeup of the child-abuser bear no relation to those of a normal parent who occasionally spanks a child.

Moreover, the argument is logically absurd. No one ever became an alcoholic without taking a first drink, but that hardly mandates Prohibition.

But let's not fall into the trap of making the court's decisions the starting point for discussion of every societal issue. Child raising is too important a subject to be confined to the pronouncements of three justices with no self-evident qualifications in the area.

Political and moral discourse in Israel has become debased by Justice Aharon Barak's philosophy that the "whole world is filled with law" and there is a legal norm for every sphere of human activity. The law has become the measure of all things.

In the political sphere, for instance, we are fast reaching the point where if a politician does not end up in the slammer, he is viewed as having been given a good government stamp of approval.

In one respect, however, Beinisch's opinion reflects a widespread intellectual malady. She suffers from what economist Thomas Sowell has termed cosmic egalitarianism. She is offended not only by inequalities created by human legal systems, but by those written into the cosmos. Thus she repeats numerous times the trenchant observation that children are little and parents are big, and that apparently offends her.

But maybe God knew what He was doing when He created the world that way. The Torah view is that the parent-child relationship is the model for our relationship with God. For that reason the commandment to honor our parents is placed together with the commandments dealing with our relationship to God.

Children are born dependent. They rely on their bigger and wiser parents to protect them and to guide them, just as we rely on an omnipotent and omniscient God. Children learn from their parents that they are subject to rule, and some authority commands respect.

FAR from granting parents unlimited authority to punish their children in any manner they want, the analogy between the parent-child relationship and our relationship with God imposes severe restrictions on parents.

God created the world only to bestow good on others. Prior to Creation, He was complete unto Himself. Everything that happens in this world conforms to that purpose. If "bad" things happen to us, which we experience as punishments, they are designed to enable us to partake of the greatest possible good - a relationship with Him. (How that works is the subject of entire books, and no book alone will convince anyone.) Those punishments are forward-looking, not punitive. Their purpose is not to hurt us for what we have done in the past, but to improve us with an eye to the future.

As parents, then, the sole justification for punishing a child is the desire to help him grow to become the best possible person he can be. The future, not the past, is our concern.

Punishment inflicted because we are angry, or because we feel personally injured by our children's failure to heed us, has no parallel in Divine punishment. God needs nothing from us, and we cannot injure Him.

If we spank our child because we feel personally injured by him, writes Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, one of the great ethical teachers of our day, that is not punishment but vengeance, which is specifically forbidden by the Torah.

God does not "lose it," and we are not entitled to either. If we cannot limit ourselves to a simple potch, designed to convey a message, not to hurt the child, writes the Gaon, we should not spank at all. To make sure that he never punished out of anger, the Alter of Kelm always waited two days before punishing his children.

Most important of all, nothing the parent does should ever cause the child to lose the sense that he is beloved. The child must understand that it is his wrong action that necessitates the punishment, not who he is. As soon as the punishment has been meted out, advises the Gaon, the parent must take pains to demonstrate his love with gentle words.

That love, unfortunately, is something no court can legislate.

© 1995-2000, The Jerusalem Post - All rights reserved.

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