This month, Scotland became the first country in the UK to make it a criminal offence for parents to smack their children. The move will give children in Scotland the same protection from assault as adults. The MSP who introduced the bill, John Finnie, said it will “send a strong message that violence is never acceptable in any setting”.
As a rabbi and mother-of-three, I couldn’t agree more. Whether smacking should be dealt with via legislation is a nuanced debate, of which I can see both sides, but it’s also clear that hurting a child is simply wrong.
On first glance it appears our Jewish tradition supports smacking and indeed many Jewish and Christian figures down the years have used our texts to do so. After all, King Solomon himself says: “They who hold back punishment hate their child; but they who love their child discipline it from an early age.”
Not to mention the Deuteronomy commandment that a “rebellious child who does not obey their father and mother” should be “stoned to death”.
However by the Talmudic period, the cruel rules were replaced with a new emphasis on kindness and compassion. As Dr William Berkson, director of America’s Jewish Institute for Youth and Family, points out: “As a result of these rabbinic teachings, traditional Jewish homes were noted for treating their children with love and warmth.”
I think of the Torah story of Moses striking the rock, rather than speaking to it, as being a helpful reminder to me of the need to try and not deal with my children in that moment of anger, but to respond to them from a calmer place. After all, how can we teach our kids how to act when they are angry or frustrated if we model the opposite behaviour?
Today’s Jewish professionals also support a smacking ban. Norwood work and family support manager April Esteras stated: “I am in favour of a smacking ban as is the social work profession as a whole.”
With recent studies finding that smacking doesn’t improve behaviour – indeed, it was found to make children more aggressive and antisocial – isn’t it time it was banned in the rest of the UK too?
- Rabbi Charley Baginksy is Liberal Judaism’s director of strategy and partnerships