An unregistered Charedi school at a Southend synagogue (pictured) is under police investigation after an adult apparently struck a child. What is the Torah view on physical chastisement?
The maxim, “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is based on a Biblical proverb: “He who spares his rod, hates his child, but one who loves him will chastise him early.”
The proverb mentions the rod, but the prescribed chastisement, “mussar”, means “to set straight” and refers to ethical rebuke, not beatings.
The Lithuanian rabbinic pietists of the “mussar movement” preached self-searching and ethical discipline for mature adults and educating the child “according to his own pathway” – another Solomonic proverb.
The non-physical approach is referred to elsewhere in Proverbs, encouraging the reader to “listen to the mussar of the father and not reject the mother’s Torah”.
Halachically, although physical chastisement is not forbidden, it is severely restricted.
First, no physical rebuke should be given as shock treatment, but after explanation.
Second, it must not be given out of anger, let alone as an instrument to force submission, only as a warning not to misbehave and disrupt.
Nowadays strict rules limit even parental chastisement, and completely outlaw it in the context of the Education Act.
Synagogues that host such schools ought to be aware of these standards from the outset.
Torah education must be a hallmark of excellence and relevance, and steer far from unlawful practices.
Misconduct should be exposed and dealt with by law and not silenced. The Chief Rabbi has clearly spoken out against this conduct.
Schools should benefit from and encourage on their premises full regulation and compliance with the law.
Let the bad publicity from this occurrence be a communal chastisement to lawful compliance.
Ariel Abel is chaplain to HM Forces and rabbi of Liverpool Princes Road Synagogue