Torah For Today! This week: Smacking

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Torah For Today! This week: Smacking

Rabbi Daniel Friedman takes a topical issue and delves into Jewish texts for an Orthodox response

Father Hitting Naughty Misbehaved Young Daughter
Father Hitting Naughty Misbehaved Young Daughter

With smacking recently becoming illegal in Scotland, what does the Torah say about this issue?

Proverbs (13:24) says: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him early.” 

These powerful words suggest that smiting one’s child is a form of tough love. The parent that fails to give their miscreant a good spanking is not helping them. 

Nevertheless, the Talmud teaches that one should never strike an adult child because they might hit you back, thereby transgressing the obligation to honour one’s parents. Indeed, wounding a parent is a capital offence. Thus, one must avoid a situation where you might cause them to sin in response to your actions. 

The Ritva explains that the prohibition applies equally to young children who might strike back. 

Similarly, the Shulchan Aruch cautions against smacking during the Three Weeks (of mourning), as it is an ominous period and the risk of damage to the child is too great.  

Our sages certainly acknowledged that smacking poses a danger.  We now understand the potential long-term psychological damage if corporal punishment is not administered correctly. So what’s the right way to smack a child?

The Torah commands: “You shall admonish your fellow.” The Talmud, however states that nowadays nobody knows how to offer sincere admonishment, concluding it is better to say nothing at all than to rebuke ineffectively. 

If that’s true of verbal chastisement, then it stands to reason that nobody knows how to administer physical admonishment.  

Too many parents raise their hands to their children, not out of a sense of sincere love and affection, but as an angry response to the child’s misbehaviour. 

That’s unacceptable. Hitting in anger is a sin. Most of us are ill-equipped to administer corporal punishment from a place of love and must no touch our children.

Ultimately, many commentators do not interpret the proverb literally.  Yes, the parent who fails to discipline their child is not helping them.  But effective discipline must come from a place of complete and utter love and may consist of any number of non-violent approaches. 

  •   Rabbi Daniel Friedman serves Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue

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