Sunday, April 28, 2013

Making of a Godol: Corporal Punishment & Gedolim

Making of a Godol (Page 143): note 64 When asked about corporal punishment for children, my father declared that unless a parent is absolutely sure that the child deserves to be punished, he must stay his hand, lest the child bear a lifetime grudge against him. As was his wont, he used his own experience as a point of proof. He related that after his teacher had given him permission to leave the classroom for the outhouse, the teacher caught other children who had falsely claimed they had to leave for the outhouse as an excuse for going outside to play. The teacher then spanked them all, including him, whose need for the outhouse was genuine. My father declared that to him "that teacher is loathsome till this day". At that occasion, my father told the story of how R' Baruch-Ber Leibowitz treated his errant child, as recorded in Ch. 3, n. 141: also see there about how R' Yosheh-Laib Bloch and our protagonist punished their children.

Making of a Godol (Pages 744):  (R' Uri Ascher related ° that after his father, R' Shimon Ascher, had concluded six years of study in the Telz Yeshiva in 5691 [1931], he called on the Rogachover before returning home to Switzerland. Knowing that the gaon did not study Aharonim, the visitor asked a question that R' Aqiva Eiger raises. The Rogachover gave R' Shimon an answer unlike that of R' Eiger and administered an unceremonious slap to the 25-year-old's cheek for asking such a weak question!)

Making of a Godol (page 754-755): My father often related an episode that occurred one time at 'Arvith following the session: "R' Baruch-Ber's young child lit a candle in the midst of the brakhoth following the reading of Shma' in order to read from the siddur. After the davenen was over, the rosh yeshiva turned to him and said, 'My dear child, long may you live, you transgressed a rabbinic prohibition [to do work before reciting Havdalah] and you deserve a slap and went ahead and slapped him." (R' Laibel Perlstein/reported that my father told him, "What he gave the child was a slight pat on the cheek. This was his slap." R' Shlomo Ashkenazi reported in our protagonist's name  that before the slap, R' Baruch-Ber told the boy that in order to show his love he had to punish him, "as it is written, [He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him chastises him often].) R' Mordkhai Shain said that my father narrated the tale (and the one recorded in Ch. 1, n. 64) when responding to a question regarding corporal punishment of misbehaving children. My father concluded that corporal punishment is permissible as long as one strikes his child with the same love and composure that R' Baruch-Ber displayed. [On August 8, 1991, my son R' Yoseph related that during my father's 5741 (1981) visit to Israel - when he added to the story that R' Baruch-Ber also kissed the child, presumably to convey to the boy that despite his sin he was still loved - R' Simhah-Zissel Broida, who was paying a call on our protagonist at the time, remarked that the child deserved the kiss for making the room light for everyone] Heinemann Notations records the following story: Before R' Yosheh-Laib Bloch, Rav of Telz, would hit his child, he called all the family together and delivered a talk about the impropriety of what the youth had done. R' Yosheh-Laib would then turn to the child and say, "For that you get three spanks " My father stressed that this procedure ensured that R' Bloch never struck his child out of anger.[...]


  1. Rav Baruch Ber's approach sounds great. People nowadays don't have such control of their midos. Give a guy license to give love taps and he'll administer a beating when he's mad. So better hands off. No chinuch is better than bad chinuch.

  2. The words and procedure are impressive in this context. Trouble is that there are many folks who could mimic the words and the procedure but would not mean it genuinely. Kids are hypocrisy lie detectors, and hypocrisy is widespread. These days most hypocrites in Haredi world hide behind zealotry.

  3. Freud wrote a few pieces regarding beating of children, and how it leads to masochism, or a sado-masochistic relationship. Thus, I find it interesting to see if his psychology applies in this case.
    the "masochist" is more likely to take on humras for himself, whereas the one who has not been beaten is more likely to indulge in more pleasures of the flesh, and thus be more mekil in his halachic commitment.
    It seems to be quite precise - the machmirim are more "sadistic" , i.e. they want more harsh punishments, whilst those who oppose beatings, are more lenient in general.

    This also can be looked at as one who is matil ol, ie those authorities who make very harsh humras for the public, which are beyond their ability (and also beyond halacha). There is a mishna 9i think in Avot) which forbids placing a heavy burden on the public.

    Please forgive my use of sadism and masochism, but when reading these anecdotes, we can almost predict that R' Yaakov woudl be against punishment, whilst the Rogatchover who was very strict, would slap someone so easily.

  4. Perhaps a love tap would be accordingly accepted when defined as out of love. Especially if the child really felt that was where it was coming from and accepted that he deserved it.
    The declaration of love while punishing, however, is fraught with the danger of the child associating his parent's love (declared and perhaps even implicit) with fear and pain across the board. This could well lead to the child rejecting the parent and all that is dear to him.
    The child may go through the motions of compliance for years while secretly planning his "sudden desertion' when he's old and confident enough to break away once and for all.
    Same for educator disciplining/causing discomfort while professing love and/or just meaning it for the talmid's own good. Especially if the talmid picks up on <100% authentic love and/or an element of hypocrisy and/or educator's self-interest.

  5. A Thorn in the Side of ChinuchApril 28, 2013 at 8:53 PM

    Without slipping into the debate of the merits of the quoted book, it is a breath of fresh air to have some anecdotes of Gedolei Yisroel as guides for how to behave. Unfortunately, most parents and mechanchim are either under-exposed to such material or just do not care to use external guidance for how they need to practice chinuch. In the case of parents, it is recognized universally that there is zero training given to parents prior to the birth of their children. These complicated creatures we call babies are delivered without an instruction manual, and parents routinely learn via on-the-job training. In the case of mechanchim, there are increasing opportunities for training, to prevent the teacher from entering the classroom with utter cluelessness how to handle discipline and classroom management. Yet, these resources are severely underutilized. I have yet to hear of any yeshiva/school who requires such training as eligibility criterion to be offered a teaching job.

    No, Rav Yaakov ZT"L did not have training. But he also did not bring his ego into anything he did, as anyone who knew him can testify. Which teacher or rebbe in today's chinuch systems will claim this degree of self-control, otherwise known to us as living by "בלתי לה' לבדו"? We are all likely to fall prey to the intrusion of our own egos into our work. But we need the training to make this into something that is microscopic. Does anyone disagree?

  6. This all seems very subjective and experience-based, which is fine enough, but let's say so. I'm not surprised by the first quoted passage, referring to Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky. I heard his son, Rav Shmuel, on a tape, tell the story of his father, at a young age, being late for cheder. He stopped to help a man whose packages had fallen from his wagon - it was a d'oraysa mitzvah to do so. But the rebbe did not ask the young Rav Yaakov why he was late for school. The rebbe just hit him, very, very hard, knocking him off his feet. Young Rav Yaakov never forgot it.


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