Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Adar I 5760 - February 9, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
How Do We Teach the High Court the Limits?

It is almost unnecessary to comment about the recent decision of the Israeli High Court to outlaw any form of corporal punishment, including asserting the right of a spanked child to sue his parents even if he or she was not injured. The Court ruled that using this sort of method is "a remnant of a social and educational conception that is outmoded."

In fact, parental spanking is legally sanctioned in most countries of the world, and it is only in a few countries in northern Europe that it has been abandoned. In those countries the decision to ban corporal punishment was made by the legislative bodies after consulting with experts in the field and after public discussion and debate as the result of a process that claims to reflect the will of the people who elect the legislature. The events in Israel are similar only in the result.

The High Court made its pronouncement without extensive consultations with any recognized experts in any relevant field. It hardly cited any such experts in its decision. It certainly did not consider much the views of the Israeli community, believing, as its president has written and said, that it is empowered to set the norms of society by the standards of "an enlightened societal elite." It was just presented with a case and decided as it saw fit, according to its own lights.

Even those who agree with the principle cannot praise this way of imposing it. The issue involved here is clearly rooted in areas that are outside of the Court's expertise. The Justices obviously have personal beliefs about corporal punishment, but what is more undemocratic than to use their legal position to impose their personal beliefs on the whole country?

The charge of the Court that corporal punishment is outmoded is not directed specifically against the Jewish religion, although the possibility of corporal punishment does have a source as old as Mishlei and most religious people do feel that there can be occasions when it is proper to use it. However, there are still many people who are less than religious and do not want to give up corporal punishment as one of the possible ways of teaching.

There is of course no license to beat a child. Spanking must be used as an educational tool, to emphasize a lesson, and not as a vent for one's frustrations. It should be done, when necessary, calmly and out of love and concern and not out of anger. It must be a deliberate decision about the importance of the issue involved and the need to emphasize the lesson, and is best accompanied and followed by verbal and physical expressions of love and closeness. Properly and judiciously applied, a spanking brings parent and child closer.

The Court cited the need to reduce the violence in Israeli society as one of the reasons it was moved to ban corporal punishment. Though this is a worthwhile goal, that does not give the Court the right to specify the means to reach it, and it certainly does not guarantee that the Court knows how to achieve the goal. "Modern" methods are not known for their success in this area.

HaRav Dessler in Michtav MeEliahu (Vol. III at the end) notes that the modern approach is fundamentally flawed since it believes that what must be encouraged in the developing child is creativity and independence, while in fact it is discipline and a sense of limits that are the big lesson that a child has to learn in life.

The High Court, it seems, is a true product of modern education, and never learned about limits. Now they want to take away one of the best educational tools for this purpose.

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