Many of us across the spectrum of Orthodoxy enjoy mocking Charedi popular literature. We giggle at this self-contradiction or that historical inaccuracy. It’s fun, easy and reinforces our self-image as intellectuals but it ignores the purposes those perceived flaws serve. Dr. Yoel Finkelman takes the literature much more seriously. In his magnificent recent book, Strictly Kosher Reading: Popular Literature and the Condition of Contemporary Orthodoxy, he analyzes the goals and methods of Charedi popular literature and what they say about the community in general. Finkelman’s topic of study is quite limited — English books published by or for Charedim, and occasionally magazines and newspapers. However, within this subject his reach is broad.

Charedi Popular Literature

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I. Analyzing the Literature

Many of us across the spectrum of Orthodoxy enjoy mocking Charedi popular literature. We giggle at this self-contradiction or that historical inaccuracy. It’s fun, easy and reinforces our self-image as intellectuals but it ignores the purposes those perceived flaws serve.

Dr. Yoel Finkelman takes the literature much more seriously. In his magnificent recent book, Strictly Kosher Reading: Popular Literature and the Condition of Contemporary Orthodoxy, he analyzes the goals and methods of Charedi popular literature and what they say about the community in general. Finkelman’s topic of study is quite limited — English books published by or for Charedim, and occasionally magazines and newspapers. However, within this subject his reach is broad.

He begins by stating his own goals, methods and biases. He then proceeds to a number of different subtopics — such as the different strategies authors adopt to merge secular and Jewish culture, how they criticize the community, and how they protect the community. He examines multiple genres — fiction, theology, history, cookbooks, and more. All the while, he is cognizant that the Charedi community is not monolithic. Different authors related differently to community, authority and tradition.

II. Coalescence, Filtering & Monopolizing

Charedi popular literature brings secular ideas into the community, adopting them as positive Jewish values. Whether books are about nutrition, psychology or marital counseling, they take ideas from the cultural highway and dress them in Torah clothing. A prime example is R. Lawrence Kelemen’s parenting guide, To Kindle A Soul: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Parents and Teachers, which adopts contemporary ideas that directly contradict traditional Jewish sources and yet portrays this new approach as Torah-based.

The literature also serves as a filter, allowing into the community only those outside ideas that are deemed inoffensive. For example, marriage guides adopt secular attitudes to relationships while maintaing Charedi dating standards and omiting discussions of marital relations that violate communal norms.

By publishing Charedi versions of secular popular literature, the community is able to monopolize culture. There is a total Charedi experience that does not require access to external media. Community members use their own news websites, enjoy their own music and read their own self-help books.

III. Under Siege

As a distinctive minority in a socially powerful culture, Charedim define who they are both in positive and negative ways. They consider their community to be a continuation of timeless Jewish communities of the past, with eternally true values that clash with the falsity of today’s majority culture. The communication of this message is so important that its bearers exaggerate, and sometimes prevaricate, in order to define the nature and boundaries of their community. The European shtetl (small town) is portrayed as a religious ideal which today’s cloistered Charedi communities attempt to mirror. Finkelman examines the various methods in which Charedi historians and biographers create an aspirational past that reflects contemporary Charedi values in order to define today’s community.

Similarly, the majority culture is consistently portrayed as evil. Community members must not only be scared of the dangers lying outside their world but must see their community as superior. This standard practice among cultural minorities can be seen prominently in Charedi popular theological works. They emphasize the rational basis of Charedi beliefs and cast as dishonest and/or hopelessly biased all who fail to reach their conclusions.

IV. Theological Comparisons

Dr. Finkelman’s book is not long but it is thick with ideas. Every page contains nuggets fit for a full Shabbos table discussion, with not only data and examples but also the ample insight of a sober, respectful, religiously knowledgeable, trained academic. There is so much in the book, both with which to agree and disagree, that I choose the following example with great difficulty.

In the context of his discussion of Charedi popular theology, which is very rationalist in its approach, Finkelman compares it in general to Medieval Jewish rationalist theology and contemporary Modern Orthodox theology. He notes that the Medievals were elitists who participated fully in the science/philosophy of their day. To them, philosophical investigation is a primary religious activity. In contrast, Charedi popular theologians teach their simplified philosophy to the masses as important only to those who need it, and largely ignore mainstream science and philosophy, focusing instead on the fringe of the scientific community.

Modern Orthodox theology “thrives on inherent ambiguity” and “openly acknowledges adopting contemporary values, albeit selectively.” It rejects proofs and instead bases its faith on religious experience and intuition. It also acknowledges disputes in Jewish theology. In contrast, Charedi popular theology is straightforward and clear. It homogenizes Jewish thought and claims to entirely reject secular values.

Despite this comparison’s attraction, it is to some degree unfair to set the greatest Medieval and contemporary Modern Orthodox theologians against Charedi popular theologians. We should instead look to the greatest Charedi theologians. However, while we will find more depth and nuance, I believe we will still find the same general trends.

V. Conclusion

Dr. Yoel Finkelman’s Strictly Kosher Reading is an important book that is both fun and thought-provoking. It seriously studies a significant aspect of the Jewish community that has been often discussed partially without the kind of sustained thought and analysis that Finkelman finally provides. This is the must-read book of year for every “hocker” and armchair critic in the Orthodox community.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

129 comments

  1. “We should instead look to the greatest Charedi theologians. ”

    They are?

  2. R. Moshe Shapiro, R. Chaim Friedlander and others.

  3. I have little interest in popular religious literature of any denomination, but would be happy to read about any serious ideas from Charedi theologians (as I do from any other denomination). Educate me.

  4. Post summary:

    Nonsense is not nonsense, because the study of nonsense is scholarship.

  5. >“In the context of his discussion of Charedi popular theology, which is very rationalist in its approach….”

    It is?

  6. Thanks for the nice review. I just want to inform readers that they can download the preface of the book and read other reviews at http://www.strictlykosherreading.blogspot.com . Readers in Israel who want to buy a copy, or anyone else for that matter, can be in touch with me at yoel.finkelman@gmail.com .

    Yoel Finkelman

  7. Some of us both laugh at Haredi pop-culture and recognize its social function at the same time. Just sayin.

    In that vein, judging by this review, this book doesn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know.

  8. This is the must-read book of year for every “hocker” and armchair critic in the Orthodox community.

    This is the highest praise that Gil has ever heaped upon a book.

    I was wondering if the author touches on the fact that the importation of modern self-help literature into Hareidi Judaism is not a new phenomenon, but is at least as old as the mussar movement.

    The lack of serious engagement with theology in favor of “hashkofa” seems to likewise reflect an inward focus on the self and the self in relation to God, and relatively little on the community as a whole, which in the English-speaking hareid world is much more fractured than anyone cares to admit. When “the community” comes together it is usually either to display a united face of triumphalism (Siyyum Hshas) or fear of persecution (Rubashkin.)

  9. It’s fun, easy and reinforces our self-image as intellectuals but it ignores the purposes those perceived flaws serve.

    ——————————
    imho the purpose is to maximize sales by crafting a product for which there is demand while avoiding boycotts.
    KT

  10. STBO: >“In the context of his discussion of Charedi popular theology, which is very rationalist in its approach….”
    It is?

    Yes, books that try to prove or almost-prove Judaism, like Beyond Reasonable Doubt or Permission to Believe/Receive. There are dozens of such books.

    Jon_brooklyn: In that vein, judging by this review, this book doesn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know.

    Could be. I found that while I had thought about almost all the subjects it touched on, the book added ideas that I had not thought of.

    MJ: This is the highest praise that Gil has ever heaped upon a book.

    I’m pretty sure it’s not, but it’s close. What I meant, though, is that just like Off The Derech became “the” book (even though I don’t think it’s particularly good), I believe this will also become “the” book (although this one I like).

    I was wondering if the author touches on the fact that the importation of modern self-help literature into Hareidi Judaism is not a new phenomenon, but is at least as old as the mussar movement.

    I don’t think so and that’s an interesting point.

  11. “We should instead look to the greatest Charedi theologians. ”

    They are?

    Hirhurim on October 27, 2011 at 10:03 pm
    R. Moshe Shapiro, R. Chaim Friedlander and others.

    What would R Dessler, R Hutner be considered?

  12. Also great Charedi theologians but of an earlier generation.

  13. I don’t talk about the connection between the mussar movement and contemporary ideas (the famed Sefer Heshbon Hanefesh/ Benajmin Franklin connection). However, there is a vast different between the early modern “mussar”-self help books and contemporary ones. The earlier ones (pardon the generalization) maintain more continuinty with classical Jewish mussar, because they operate on the “make yourself noble through self-control” principle. Contemporary mussar self-help books operate largely on the “make yourself happy through self-acceptance” principle.

    Yoel

  14. Moshe Shoshan

    Gil
    What be the result of a comparison between Keleman et al and R’s Shapiro and Friedlander? do you have a sense?

  15. r’ gil – “Yes, books that try to prove or almost-prove Judaism, like Beyond Reasonable Doubt…”

    certainly, you do not mean beyond reasonable doubt by louis jacobs. certainly not haredei or even ortho (maybe former ortho)

  16. R. Moshe Shapiro, R. Chaim Friedlander and others.

    What great ideas have these great theologians produced?

  17. I don’t know R. Shapiro or Friedlander well enough to know, though I recall (don’t have the book with me) that Rabbi Akiva Tatz claims to be a student of the former. Would be interesting to compare him to his rebbe.

  18. Rafael Araujo

    “Contemporary mussar self-help books operate largely on the “make yourself happy through self-acceptance” principle.”

    Reb Yoel, as a chareidi, I can tell you that this approach stems a lot with the recent approach in chinuch and the observance of Yiddishkeit in general, which is that for Jews to learn Torah and observe the mitzvos, there must a love, a zest, a “simchah” for Torah u’mitzvos. I hear it all the time from Rebbeim, Rabbanim, mechanchim. I hear that this a different generation, and that emotional makeup of generation requires this (not saying that I disagree with this).

  19. Rafael Araujo

    Rabbi Akiva Tatz, Rabbi Mordechai Becher, the author of the Ishmalite Exile and Ma’amakim al HaTorah. They all are marbitzei Toras R’ Moshe Shapiro, who, in the world of mussar, represents a different and maybe radical approach to mussar and “machshavah”.

  20. Rafael: I believe the Alter of Slabodka intentionally pioneered this change of approach within the Mussar movement, and his talmidim had a huge impact on the yeshiva world. R. Dov Katz discusses this change at length.

  21. Rafael Araujo

    Reb Gil – I heard an apocryphal story that R’ Chatzkel Leventstein was not happy with R’ Dessler and his approach, which is essentially what R’ Moshe Shapiro represents. R’ Moshe Shapiro was a talmid of R’ Dessler.

  22. Wouldn’t surprise me. R. Dessler was very eclectic. R. Chaim Friedlander was also a talmid of R. Dessler. Both R. Friedlander and R. Shapiro homogenize past views and take a general Maharal-type approach. Traditional mussar takes a more literal and less philosophical approach to midrash and aggadita.

  23. “certainly, you do not mean beyond reasonable doubt by louis jacobs. certainly not haredei or even ortho (maybe former ortho)

    http://onthemainline.blogspot.com/2006/05/unreasonable-content-in-beyond.html

  24. “Reb Yoel, as a chareidi, I can tell you that this approach stems a lot with the recent approach in chinuch and the observance of Yiddishkeit in general, which is that for Jews to learn Torah and observe the mitzvos, there must a love, a zest, a “simchah” for Torah u’mitzvos. I hear it all the time from Rebbeim, Rabbanim, mechanchim. I hear that this a different generation, and that emotional makeup of generation requires this (not saying that I disagree with this).”

    This is true, but it also comes from the Zeitgeist, so it’s really the same thing. This is not a contradiction to the fact that Chareidi manhigim are opposed to the Zeitgeist. As for the books, does anyone really believe that the authors don’t read secular (or *Christian*) self-help books?

    Agav, my rosh yeshiva recommended I read “Men Are From Mars, etc.” before I got married. When I picked my jaw up from the floor, I realized that he was just trying to help me have a good marriage.

  25. anonymous – thanks – not familiar with the book and thanks for the post. surprise of the similar title. will read up on it.
    http://onthemainline.blogspot.com/2006/05/unreasonable-content-in-beyond.html

  26. Other Charedi Baalei Machshavah, Musar and Chasidus would IMO include the CI ( Emunah uBitachon), the Satmar Rav, the Nesivos Shalom, R R Shimshon Pincus, Zicronam Livracha and R Nevenzal. Dr. Finkelman’s book is certainly worth reading, but I agree with R Gil that Charedi popular writing should be judged by its spiritual leaders, as opposed to either medieval Baalei Machshavah or MO thinkers.

  27. “A prime example is R. Lawrence Kelemen’s parenting guide, To Kindle A Soul: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Parents and Teachers, which adopts contemporary ideas that directly contradict traditional Jewish sources and yet portrays this new approach as Torah-based.”

    Can you give an example? I suspect there are contradictory statements in hazal and Kelemen is just emphasizing one over another.

  28. Is there any discussion of the evolution of Chareidi media e.g. Ami prints stuch Mishpacha wouldn’t who in turn print stuff Yated wouldn’t who in turn print their own letters to the editor.

  29. One more Charedi Gadol and Baal Machshavah whose name should never be overlooked-R Elchonan Wasserman, ZL, HaShem Yimkam Damo.

  30. R Gil wrote in part:

    “A prime example is R. Lawrence Kelemen’s parenting guide, To Kindle A Soul: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Parents and Teachers, which adopts contemporary ideas that directly contradict traditional Jewish sources and yet portrays this new approach as Torah-based”

    What would be contradictory about Chapter 6 of the above referenced book and its take on contemporary media, especially television? I realize that we have discussed this issue previously, but the author IIRC, is merely advocating for an approach that was echoed in a recent NY Times article about a school in Silicon Valley that was devoid of technological means of educating children, at the request of the highly educated parent body.

  31. Rafael Araujo wrote:

    “Reb Yoel, as a chareidi, I can tell you that this approach stems a lot with the recent approach in chinuch and the observance of Yiddishkeit in general, which is that for Jews to learn Torah and observe the mitzvos, there must a love, a zest, a “simchah” for Torah u’mitzvos. I hear it all the time from Rebbeim, Rabbanim, mechanchim. I hear that this a different generation, and that emotional makeup of generation requires this (not saying that I disagree with this).”

    The linked article about teen spirituality would indicate that this is a phenomenon that knows no hashkafic boundaries.

  32. Dr Finkelman-I saw that the table of contents discusses the ArtScroll produced genre. Do you discuss the self help genre or ArtScroll’s works on Tanach and Shas? ( Full disclosure-I think that the ArtScroll Siddur and Machzor are superbly user friendly and aid the Mispalel in his or her Tefilah more so than any prior edition of the Siddur. I do have severe reservations about the value of “elucidations” of classical Jewish texts in general as creating a Kli Sheni Aino Mvashel effect, devaluing textual literacy, and creating a false impression of Ameilus BaTorah, when, if used without being able to jettison the same, one IMO is no different than an addict who uses Methadone as a substitute.)

  33. Shavua tov. A few follow-ups:

    I do not see a lot of continuity between the Alter of Slobodka and contemporary self-help mussar. Yes, Slobodka and Kelm took a more optimistic stand on human nature and mussar than did R. Yisrael Salanter or Nevardok, but they did not envision happiness, per se, as the goal and were much more interested in self-awareness and transformation than self-acceptance. The contemporary frum lit is basically self-help books, just like the ones you get in Barnes and Noble.

    James — Kelemen offers parenting advice that contradicts that of Hazal and classical sources. Best example: corporal punishment. Hazal and the classical sources are unequivocal — you must hit your kids, at times rather harshly, in order to instill fear in them, or else they will rebel (Shemot Rabbah 1:1, plus lots and lots of other sources from Mishlei to the Gra). When Kelemen claims that good Torah parenting accepts a friendly, child-centered approach and rejects corporal punishment, he’s not taking one side of a mahloket, but adopting contemporary values against the pre-modern tradition. (Generally, in the book, I try to analyze and not criticize, but I give Kelemen a hard time for the way in which he blatantly misrepresents himself and his sources, though, as a friend of mine pointed out recently, in the history of religious charlatanism his example is small potatoes.)

    As for the comparison to the medievals, the point is not to hold these books up to standards they can’t meet and then ridicule them, but to use medieval Jewish philosophy as a mirror in order to more clearly identify what these books are doing and how they are doing it.

    Steve – I pay a little bit of attention to the Shas, but not nearly as much as it deserves. The Artscroll Gemara is a phenomenon of great historical importance, certainly long-term more important than frum self-help books, spy novels, or gedolim biographies. It needs a talmid-chacham/Talmudist (I don’t qualify) with a careful eye to really give the Artscroll gemara the treatment it deserves.

    Yoel

  34. Check out my forthcoming book – “Strictly Treif Reading: Snarky Modern Orthodox Bloggers and Cynical Post-Orthodox Posters.”

  35. Don’t accuse Keleman for adopting a no-hitting approach against the view of Chazal. R’ Wolbe, in his work on chinuch of children, writes clearly that in our times hitting is a no-no.R’ Keleman is a talmid of R’ Wolbe, and was just adopting his approach.In the chareidi world, R’ Wolbe was considered one of the greatest experts in chinuch, besides being the pre-eminent mashgiach of our times.

  36. The question is not whether the approach of all contemporaries, from the secular to the charedi, on corporal punishment differs from the thrust of Chazal. The question is, why? Some today will argue that corporal punishment was always an evil and just now we are waking up to that fact. We, who respect Chazal, would probably prefer to say that corporal punishment was once a good idea but circumstances have changed. But exactly how have circumstances changed? Any ideas from the readers here?

  37. I seem to remember hearing that R. Shach z”l said something along the lines of: “If you hit a child, tomorrow he’ll go to the beach (sans kipa”.

    Ergo, physical punishment has lost its effectiveness as an educational tool -it’s even counterproductive – and thus its raison d’etre (so it reverts to the status of physical assault).

  38. “But exactly how have circumstances changed?”

    The socio-political notion that one’s individual needs/rights may have precedence over that of one’s group (further enabled by being able to choose one’s group to an extent that didn’t previously exist).

  39. Aiwac- was it really ever effective? Or do we just ignore that abusing (of course, what is abuse and what is appropriate is debatable) a child via physical punishment was acceptable by the standards of the day?

    Shlomo and aiwac- would or could a beit din punish a father that did physical punishment on a regular basis al pee Halacha ( leave out dina d’malchuta dina for the moment)? Just curious.

    Shlomo – is it disrespectful to chazal to say we understand ( at least we think we do) more today than then? Why do we always have to resort to the metzius has changed? Or are we really afraid of what else we can apply it to?

  40. “was it really ever effective? Or do we just ignore that abusing (of course, what is abuse and what is appropriate is debatable) a child via physical punishment was acceptable by the standards of the day?”

    I was trying to answer Shlomo’s question as to how a (Charedi) authority would explain (or excuse) the difference between Chazal and today, not giving my own opinion.

    “Or do we just ignore that abusing (of course, what is abuse and what is appropriate is debatable)”

    You just undercut your own challenge – it wasn’t considered abuse then. Also, keep in mind that corporal punishment was acceptable (to varying degrees) in many “enlightened countries” even in the early 20th century.

    As for its effectiveness? Who knows? It’s not like we have stats from that period. Children didn’t have much choice in the matter, anyway – it’s not like they could pick up and leave. The point of Rav Shach’s statement was that while one could debate its effectiveness then, it CERTAINLY is not effective now.

    As an aside, I think it the height of folly and arrogance to judge people’s actions during any particular historical period based on our positions today – not just regarding Jews but in general. It is nothing more than self-congralutory grandstanding, and it affords us nothing but an axiomatic attitude of contempt towards those who preceded us.

    Surely, we MO Jews are mature enough to adopt a more balanced and nuanced approach towards our fore-bearers :).

    “would or could a beit din punish a father that did physical punishment on a regular basis al pee Halacha ( leave out dina d’malchuta dina for the moment)? Just curious.”

    Dunno. You’ll have to ask a posek.

  41. Aiwac – I wasn’t looking to judge our forebears by our standards ( i think thatbis unfair and silly)but trying to show that chazal was effected by the standards and knowledge of their day – which many in the charedei world find as unacceptable hashkafa. this made it into our halachik system. But since we deem it as ineffective (as oppose to unacceptable) do we now disregard all halachot associated with it ( not that there is any mitzvah to beat your child)? Don’t you think that saying it is now ineffective is more apologetics – or chazal could never have erred?

    Would it be acceptable if it was effective? Or do children have limited or no rights under Jewish law?

  42. “Strictly Treif Reading: Snarky Modern Orthodox Bloggers and Cynical Post-Orthodox Posters.”

    I know you’re being sarcastic but I’m sure almost everyone who reads this blog would be hugely interested to read a critical study of MO (broadly speaking) literary output (maybe internet-based, maybe more general). If you ever get around to writing this book, let me know. …Of course you could also just sit around in front of your computer and whine about Hirhurim posts you don’t like – it’s a favorite hobby of mine, that’s for sure.

    Gil and/or Dr. Finkelman, is there any discussion in the book of specifically how Charedi literature relates to non-Charedi Orthodox Jews? That’s something I’ve often thought about especially since my own admittedly anecdotal/off-the-cuff sense of things is that there is a lot more nuance in this respect than I used to believe.

  43. Ruvie,

    Once again – I was saying how a Charedi would explain the difference. I didn’t say that’s my personal opinion.

    “Don’t you think that saying it is now ineffective is more apologetics – or chazal could never have erred?”

    …and what’s wrong with apologetics as long as the problematic halacha/statement is ‘kicked upstairs’/neutralized/what have you at the end of the day? Is it so wrong to pay that bit of homage to ancestral authority and prestige by not saying outright that we think they were mistaken?

    Again, this is a defense of Rav Shach style answers. But really, every yeshiva student, even black hats, likely know that ‘nishtanu hateva’im’ is lashon nekiyah for “Chazal ta’u”. It’s called being respectful towards your elders even when they ‘err’.

    “Would it be acceptable if it was effective? Or do children have limited or no rights under Jewish law?”

    IIRC, and correct me if I’m wrong, but even the Rishonim were restrictive when it came to the type of blows your could give a child. So, no, children are not punching bags, even in pre-Modern times, at least in theory.

    I remember reading in the hagiography of the Brisker Rav, no modernish namby-pamby, that even when he delivered corporal punishment, he avoided doing so out of anger. So there are restrictions; I think it’s a simple matter to expand the logic underlying the original restrictions into an all-out ban.

  44. “Strictly Treif Reading: Snarky Modern Orthodox Bloggers and Cynical Post-Orthodox Posters”

    I’d buy it :), it sounds like fun. I don’t mind humor, even at my expense, as long as it’s not nasty or mean-spirited.

  45. Aiwac – thanks, I was looking for view on this matter as well. Not sure if “every yeshiva student even black hats….” is true in the majority. A friend of mine relates that his nephew while in yeshiva in israel his ry talked about the goanish chop – that when chazal said the world was flat it was and then mistaneh hateva. But I hope you are right. I am just admittedly too cynical at my age.

  46. ‘One more Charedi Gadol and Baal Machshavah whose name should never be overlooked-‘ R’ Shlomo Wolbe

  47. Dr Finkelman-IIRC, R Kelman’s views re corporal punishment follow those of R Wolbe ZL in Zeriah Ubinyan whose advice is that corporal punishment in our time , as well as not allowing a child space, time to play, etc can alienate a child from Torah and Mitzvos. That IMO is similar to how the CI views the Halacha of Moridn vlo Maalim Bazman HaZeh-on the books buit no applicable-liek so many other halachos.

  48. Steve, that’s irrelevant. Dr. Finkelman’s point is that it totally contradicts Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim. They are probably right that times have changed but that doesn’t mean that what they are saying is BASED on the Torah, as they claim.

  49. They are probably right that times have changed but that doesn’t mean that what they are saying is BASED on the Torah, as they claim.

    They’re based on the fundamental Truths of the Torah that transcend the particulars of historical contingency.

    See, the Hareidi world is only two steps from “post Orthodoxy.”

  50. “What would be contradictory about Chapter 6 of the above referenced book and its take on contemporary media, especially television? I realize that we have discussed this issue previously, but the author IIRC, is merely advocating for an approach that was echoed in a recent NY Times article about a school in Silicon Valley that was devoid of technological means of educating children, at the request of the highly educated parent body”
    The Silicon Valley school was an elementary school-if my recollection is correct many in the article would have had a different opinion on a HS or certainly a college.

  51. “would or could a beit din punish a father that did physical punishment on a regular basis al pee Halacha?”

    The halacha is that during the 3 Weeks, a period of time fraught with danger, a parent should refrain from hitting his child and a Rebbi his students.

    The Rambam in the laws of a Murderer and Protecting Life 5:6 says that a father who hits his child and and a teacher who hits a student and inadvertently kills him, is patur.

    Clearly, halacha considers hitting children as normative. However, as pointed out above, it is no longer considered an effective means of disciplining children; it is seen as counter-productive today.

  52. R Gil wrote:

    “Steve, that’s irrelevant. Dr. Finkelman’s point is that it totally contradicts Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim. They are probably right that times have changed but that doesn’t mean that what they are saying is BASED on the Torah, as they claim.”

    WADr, this fails to accept the fact that even if Chazal, Rishonim and Acharonim posit a halachic or even hashkafic point , is it not elementary that the Chachmei HaTorah of every generation have to decide whether such a Halacha or Hashkafic approach works is applicasble based on the metzius in front of them, as opposed to assuming that the same is a closed book that does not require evaluation as to whether a din which was Mutar in prior generations is Assur today or vice versa? IMO, that is the basis of what R Keleman or any Posek or Baal Machshavah postulates in such circumstances.

  53. Steve: Neither I nor Dr. Finkelman disagree with you or R. Kelemen. Our only point is that his sensible position is NOT based on Chazal and Rishonim. If Chazal and Rishonim were living today, they would probably say the same things that R. Wolbe and R. Kelemen said. But they didn’t in their times. R. Kelemen’s claim that his approach is based on sources is difficult to justify.

  54. I believe the hitting issue is more nuanced. Beyond the loss effectiveness in sociological terms, I was taught that the parent/rebbe must have the purest of motives and not hit out of frustration or convenience asa short-cut to discipline. It is our inability to hit with pure motives and in just the right measure and just the right type of body-language which is what makes hitting ineffective today.
    So in short, its more about yeridas hadoros than nishtaneh hatevah.
    This may go a long way in explaining why the popular Chareidi literature doesn’t measure up to Chazal and rishonim (or even the pre-war generation).
    The Ba’alei mussar themselves advocating adopting new and sometimes radical techniques and motivational strategies in order to promote avodas Hashem and Yiras Shomayim. (Yiras ha’onesh doesn’t work anymore nowadays, so we have to emphasize ahavah and Yiras Haromemus etc.) SO in a broader sense, these departures have a mesorah.
    (Heck, you can take this trend even further back and say that Koheles is essentially a mussar sefer that uses general philosophy as a technique to get the same basic message of Mishle across. Sof Davar.)

  55. Hirhurim: >“In the context of his discussion of Charedi popular theology, which is very rationalist in its approach….”
    It is?

    Yes, books that try to prove or almost-prove Judaism, like Beyond Reasonable Doubt or Permission to Believe/Receive. There are dozens of such books.

    I suppose certain texts can be described as rationalist in form, but…. a book like “Beyond Reasonable Doubt”, for example, doesn’t seriously engage either modern science or regular standards of intellectual discourse.

    I think a work of that sort can be described as pseudo-Rationalist or para-Rationalist — a text that wishes to be regarded seriously in the rationalist arena, and so claims to base its conclusions on accepted scientific or intellectual arguments.

    But the book’s rationalism is primarily advertising. The text (i.e. the author) seems to lack fluency in the content of the intellectual debates he purports to adjudicate. In some cases, he untruthfully attributes certain beliefs to others’ whose intellectual cachet is thought to command respect. Surely this cannot qualify as “rationalism”.

    A text like that ends up paying a backhanded compliment to the rationalist logos, demonstrating how obligated a contemporary religious apologist feels to its forms even if he declines to follow its standards.

  56. To STBO (or other readers who agree with him):
    How about some concrete examples instead of simply bad-mouthing the book and requiring us to take your word for it?

  57. Dovid Kornreich – what you are saying – if i understand you correctly – that if corporeal punishment was effective – if proper yirat shamayim etc – that its perfectly ok in all aspects. is that correct? and in the past those that did punish their children had this? and the further we go back the more this is true?

    that is why i am surprise or perplexed that no one here cares about the psychological effects (or damage)on children even if this method was somewhat effective in having children stay in line or obedient to their parents/teachers. is it so hard to say that today we now know more and have a better understanding of human behavior than the past? or that a father has less control over their household – with no interference – is a fact of modern day life?

  58. Rafael Araujo

    R’ Wolbe also discussed, in his book (I have the english tranlslation) that the implementation of corporal punishment is not meant to be physical abuse/beating up the child.

  59. “that is why i am surprise or perplexed that NO ONE HERE CARES about the psychological effects (or damage)on children even if this method was somewhat effective in having children stay in line or obedient to their parents/teachers. (emphasis mine)”

    Excuse me?! How the hell did you arrive at that conclusion?! Just because people are trying to neutralize the problematic issue with anasthetic and not a shotgun?!

  60. I’m a member of a private discussion group where there’s a conversation going on regarding corporeal punishment by rabbis, some of them rashei yeshiva and relatively well-known rabbanim. I’m reading stories of people (all using their real names) as kids getting backhanded, being slammed into walls, punched in the face. And remember when Shmuel Halpert (World Agudath Israel) said he hit his children and regretted that others don’t? A survey reported on by Jpost reported that while around 33 percent of the Israeli public believed in corporeal punishment, 40% of self-identified haredim believed in using it.

    Apparently, some folks don’t regard the traditional sources on this to be outdated.

  61. aiwac -” Just because people are trying to neutralize the problematic issue..”

    everyone here is trying to neutralize it by saying its ineffective – well, how about it being wrong but acceptable in the day. the underlying feeling is that if effective its torah is eternal concept going on here. like in the future this could change and its just our modern pov.

    we use ideas as yeridot hadorot for this? please, if anything we as jews may be yeridat hadorot ( i would argue this is a conceptual idea to explain things as oppose to those that believe this literally and there is almost as many talmud statements that are the opposite of this concept) but the goyim if anything have been maalim belkadosh for the last 2000 years and certainly after the enlightment. it seems that they have learned something from the neveiim on protecting the less powerful and disadvantage that we -collectively – did not.

  62. ruvie,

    “well, how about it being wrong but acceptable in the day”

    You mean like schechita and circumcision, both of which are under attack in Europe and in the US? If ever there was a slippery slope argument that is valid, this is it. You could invalidate practically the entire issur system on this basis.

    “The underlying feeling is that if effective its torah is eternal concept going on here”

    No, it’s about maintaining the integrity of the system while rendering a problematic issue to be a dead letter, cf Ben Sorer Umoreh, the death penalty &c. No-one seriously believes either will ever be revived.

    “Like in the future this could change and its just our modern pov”

    Again, who said this?! ‘Kicking it upstairs’ is generally permanent.

    “it seems that they have learned something from the neveiim on protecting the less powerful and disadvantage that we -collectively – did not.”

    Sigh. If the authorities who neutralized it weren’t interested in protecting the weaker types or thought corporal punishment was OK, they wouldn’t bother with the excuses, they’d just continue doing it (like much of the Charedi world today).

    Really, re-read this last missive to yourself very carefully and understand just how hysterical it sounds.

  63. aiwac – didn’t mean to pick on you. sometimes apologetics do not work as well as people think it does.

    my comments were really david kornreich and others who believe that back in the day we had purer thoughts when we abused children (i am not talking about a patch here or there – but corporeal punishment by fathers to gain obedience which was the norm) – like everyone was literate, a talmid chacham, and had pure thoughts when they smacked their kids.
    rafael – what was it meant for if not obedience by physical force – it just sometimes end in physical abuse when the child doesn’t listen. i guess we believe that fear is best in disciplining our children from a torah true viewpoint.

  64. ruvie,

    I already explained that is you know to ‘read between the lines’, you can discern the real reason for the change, בבחינת את התוכן אכול והקליפה זרוק. This is so when it comes to the death penalty, child abuse and a host of other issues such as Chazal and science.

    Is it possible people will misunderstand? Yes, which is why I think older students should be given a more honest and balacned understanding of how the halachic system works.

    It’s also possible that naked, blanket condemnation along the lines you suggest will also have negative consequences, including but not restricted to wholesale gutting of halacha and/or legitamized selective observance, ie ‘picking and choosing’ at one’s convenience and not God’s.

    This is why decisions on this matter should not be taken lightly, certainly not on an internet forum or via ‘daat Torah’.

  65. See Gemara Makos 8 for a discussion about a father who accidentally kills his son.

    The Gemara in Moed Katan (17a) states that a father who hits his adult son transgresses the prohibition of “Lifnei Iver Lo Siten Michshol,” because he tempts his son to transgress the Torah prohibition against hitting one’s father.

    SHULCHAN HA’MELECH (Hilchos De’os 6:10) answers that a father is allowed to hit his adult son, provided that he does so in order to teach him Torah and Mitzvos. The SEDEI CHEMED proves this from the Gemara in Sanhedrin (70b) which states that Bas Sheva, the mother of Shlomo ha’Melech, rebuked her son for his actions. It relates that she tied him to a pillar and oppressed him. Although the CHIDA (in one explanation) says that she only threatened to beat him, the Midrash Tanchuma states explicitly that she beat him with a stick. It is evident from there that a parent is allowed to beat his or her adult child for the sake of guiding him in Torah and Mitzvos. Accordingly, a parent who accidentally kills his child in such a case is exempt from Galus.

    See Rashi in Kidushin (30a) that a father may not hit his grown son even for the sake of directing him towards Torah and Mitzvos. Rashi explains that the Gemara there refers to a father who wants to hit his son for the sake of rebuking him, and nevertheless he is prohibited from doing so since the grown son might rebel as a result.

    It seems quite obvious from the sources that psychological damage and the supposed ineffectiveness of corporal punishment are non-issues. The issues are rebuke, chinuch, and when hitting becomes counter-productive because the child will hit back and will thereby be transgressing.

    http://www.dafyomi.co.il/makos/insites/ma-dt-008.htm

  66. Aiwac- I have no issue of reading between the lines or a wink winkfor halachik reasons but the comments outside yourself don’t feel that way from what see. They go and try to justify and explain away the past in ways that most young people with a modicum of intelligence would laugh at internally.

    So when you see betei dinim allow abusive fathers have visitation rights unsupervised (per article by rivkah Haupt) etc. the reading between the lines is not really working – even for rabbis(let’s not even goto sexual harassment issue).
    I was not recommending blanket comdemnation but intellectual honesty. That societal changes and knowledge convince us for taking a different view than previously generations.

  67. By the way, re: Y. Finkelman’s comment: “I don’t talk about the connection between the mussar movement and contemporary ideas (the famed Sefer Heshbon Hanefesh/ Benajmin Franklin connection).”

    Cheshbon haNefesh was actually authored by an early Maskil. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menachem_Mendel_Lefin

    So, his writings PROBABLY wouldn’t qualify as part of Chareidi literature. 😛

  68. “So, his writings PROBABLY wouldn’t qualify as part of Chareidi literature. :P”

    As mussar literature, of course it qualifies. There’s even a special booklet called קונטרס בואו חשבון (Jerusalem 1998) which tries to work out how Lefin wasn’t a maskil and thus all is fine in the world.

  69. aiwac – “You could invalidate practically the entire issur system on this basis.”
    not really – why would this apply to chukim like schechita or kashrut.?but would apply to slavery – unless you want to say then they had yirat shemayim and cared about their slaves but we cannot therefore it is not done? you think that is not laughable?

    societal changes is acceptable to allow women to leave the house more than 2 times a month or go to work so why not here? or tzinus – where we ignore a well known misnah that forbids a man for walking behind his wife and mother (per the ritva or was it the rasbah which said today our tzinus is different and its sugjective to the times – paraphrasing from memory).
    this question of how do deal with change – societal and other types of change – is a big subject. i know of no consistent theory that reflects all type of changes in all circumstances in halacha over time. i think its more pick and choose.

  70. Ruvie: Shlomo – is it disrespectful to chazal to say we understand (at least we think we do) more today than then?

    I think it comes down to this: Do we really “know more” about corporal punishment now than in the past? We certainly know more about science – not just because we are trained to make better observations, but also because we are much better at correlating and accumulating observations made by different people. So it’s unsurprising and understandable that Chazal were ignorant about science. But when it comes to a moral/behavioral issue like corporal punishment, we would expect the modern science to be much less useful, and expect Chazal’s knowledge to be stronger, since it’s the kind of issue religions are supposed to care and know about. So I’m much more hesitant to say that Chazal were wrong in this case. I don’t refuse point blank, but I’m more hesitant.

    Aiwac: Ergo, physical punishment has lost its effectiveness as an educational tool -it’s even counterproductive

    We all agree that it’s probably lost whatever effectiveness it once had (though see Wikipedia on the subject for debates over whether the criticisms of corporal punishment apply equally to ALL punishments) – the question is why? The same question applies to Critiquer’s response. You guys are leaving the issue in a teiku and I would prefer to have a more complete understanding of the topic.

    Dovid Kornreich: It is our inability to hit with pure motives and in just the right measure and just the right type of body-language which is what makes hitting ineffective today.

    That’s one possible actual answer to my question. But I think it’s an incorrect one. The rabbis of past generations may have been great tzaddikim, but the masses were not. The Temple was not built in their lifetimes any more than in ours. And the recommendation of corporal punishment was directed at everyone.

    IH: The socio-political notion that one’s individual needs/rights may have precedence over that of one’s group (further enabled by being able to choose one’s group to an extent that didn’t previously exist).

    That’s more like the answer I was thinking of. In my opinion though that it’s not so much the group whose rights have precedence as the parent, who had total control over the child, which of course allowed for abuse and cruelty but presumably at a lower rate than if anyone else were in charge of the child. Nowadays the parent’s control has been eroded both by individualism, and by the growth of institutions (i.e. schools, social workers) which take over the parent’s role. As for the desirability of these two changes – institutions of experts are beneficial but were not practical in the ancient world, while many have argued (not sure I necessarily agree) that modern individualism results in “alienation” and associated mental disorders, which might be more damaging that whatever harm is done by corporal punishment.

    i guess we believe that fear is best in disciplining our children from a torah true viewpoint.

    This topic is ripe for a comparison to the issue of fear vs. love regarding our other “Father”, and how approaches have changed over the past few centuries, and again – why.

  71. “Aiwac- I have no issue of reading between the lines or a wink winkfor halachik reasons but the comments outside yourself don’t feel that way from what see. They go and try to justify and explain away the past in ways that most young people with a modicum of intelligence would laugh at internally.”

    ruvie, as long as they’re laughing and not taking it as gospel, I have no problem.

    “I was not recommending blanket comdemnation but intellectual honesty. That societal changes and knowledge convince us for taking a different view than previously generations.”

    But it goes beyond the issue of intellectual honesty (ie what’s true and what’s not). We’re talking here about value and behavior changes, as well.

    Such things should be done through careful, considered negotiations, weighing each issue individually, not with sweeping, indiscriminate changes (eg, what extreme Reform did).

  72. i know of no consistent theory that reflects all type of changes in all circumstances in halacha over time. i think its more pick and choose.
    =================================================
    IIUC it is Baalei horaah pick and choose based on their complete unity with the torah.
    KT

  73. ruvie on October 30, 2011 at 11:08 pm
    Dovid Kornreich – what you are saying – if i understand you correctly – that if corporeal punishment was effective – if proper yirat shamayim etc – that its perfectly ok in all aspects. is that correct? and in the past those that did punish their children had this? and the further we go back the more this is true?

    In short, No, no, and no. I will try to clarify.

    There are two ways you can say that corporeal punishment is effective.
    1) It makes the child/student do what you want him to do (or stop dong what you don’t want him to do.)
    2) It is a method of conveying values– it trains the child to acquire proper behavior and attitudes and inculcates the educational objectives and goals of the parents and teachers. Call it conditioning if you want to be a reductionist.

    The first way is a blunt and violent method to enforce immediate obedience. It is basically physical abuse, pure and simple. All the Yiras Shomayim in the world will not make this muttar. You will find people of all historical eras doing this and it was always wrong–yet it used to be effective anyway because of the sociological factors. People today are refraining from this more and more because the sociological realities have changed and kids today simply won’t put up with it and will leave their society. It is no longer effective in addition to being wrong and assur.

    The second way requires intelligence and sophistication in knowing exactly when and how much corporeal punishment to administer and how to do it with love. This takes an extremely high level of refinement of character and self-control not to abuse this powerful educational tool. Most people today don’t have that level of refinement and self-control and will most likely hit a child/student out of frustration or expediency–which makes it abuse and is the opposite of education.

    I hope I’ve clarified the confusion.

    When people like Baruch Pelta relate horror stories about traumatic experiences with corporeal punishment, it is unquestionably of the first type and never of the second.

  74. shlomo: “But when it comes to a moral/behavioral issue like corporal punishment, we would expect the modern science to be much less useful, and expect Chazal’s knowledge to be stronger, since it’s the kind of issue religions are supposed to care and know about. ”

    i think you need to separate moral from behavioral. otherwise i would venture to say (with little thought so far) that moral issue may be eternal but behavior may signify a specific time and place in the world (not always though) within accepted norms (again jewish or secular).

  75. > To STBO (or other readers who agree with him): How about some concrete examples instead of simply bad-mouthing the book and requiring us to take your word for it?

    For a couple of good examples, see this

  76. R Gil wrote:

    “Steve: Neither I nor Dr. Finkelman disagree with you or R. Kelemen. Our only point is that his sensible position is NOT based on Chazal and Rishonim. If Chazal and Rishonim were living today, they would probably say the same things that R. Wolbe and R. Kelemen said. But they didn’t in their times. R. Kelemen’s claim that his approach is based on sources is difficult to justify”

    Are you, and by extension ,Dr Finkelman claiming that R Wolbe ZL’s approach, which R Kelemen relies on, is not rooted in Chazal and Rishonim, or an assessment that which was previously Mutar is probably Assur or vice versa?

  77. r’ joel – “Baalei horaah pick and choose based on their complete unity with the torah”

    is it always the baalei horaah or is it the community itself that leads at times (think of bat mitzvah, or other items the middle ages (see jacob katz’s books)).

  78. Dovid Kornreich

    “When people like Baruch Pelta relate horror stories about traumatic experiences with corporeal punishment, it is unquestionably of the first type and never of the second.”

    What is the evidence that the second type ever existed? For the purpose of a response, evidence could be in the form of being on the recieving end of it, but not giving it. Adam karov etzel atzmo and is passul le-edus.

  79. For a couple of good examples, see this

    I really wish STBO would respond in person because I suspect he had those same kind of examples in mind, and they DO NOT support his particular critique of Rabbi Waldman’s book.
    Both S. and Project Emunah have pointed out glaring problems of inadequate scholarship in this book. But inadequate scholarship does not impugn someone’s rationalist credentials.
    Those very same problems can be found in Rabbi Nathan T. Lopes Cardozo’s 2006 article on Biblical criticism, (and Prof. Kaplan has accused it of plagiarizing from Herman Wouk written in the 50’s which explains why its so outdated
    http://www.haloscan.com/comments/hirhurim/2445811727960881720/#606454
    ) but this would not detract from a potential claim to be a rationalist.

    There happens to be a popular author and blogger who is quite vocal about championing rationalism whose scholarship I find to be quite shoddy and superficial. But that failure (in and of itself) doesn’t affect his claim to be rationalist in the slightest.

    And back to the book’s criticism of Chareidi Kiruv rationalists:

    In the context of his discussion of Charedi popular theology, which is very rationalist in its approach, Finkelman compares it in general to Medieval Jewish rationalist theology and contemporary Modern Orthodox theology. He notes that the Medievals were elitists who participated fully in the science/philosophy of their day. To them, philosophical investigation is a primary religious activity. In contrast, Charedi popular theologians teach their simplified philosophy to the masses as important only to those who need it, and largely ignore mainstream science and philosophy, focusing instead on the fringe of the scientific community.

    Modern Orthodox theology “thrives on inherent ambiguity” and “openly acknowledges adopting contemporary values, albeit selectively.” It rejects proofs and instead bases its faith on religious experience and intuition.

    But Finkelman and Reb Gil are failing to acknowledge that although the Modern Orthodox are more in line with the medieval rishonim’s thorough engagement with non-Jewish philosophy and science, they dropped out when they reject the entire “proofs for the Torah” enterprise which was a sine qua non for the rationalist rishonim and which Chareidim have become the sole torch bearers in the realm of kiruv.
    For more about this irony see this post:
    http://slifkinchallenge.blogspot.com/2011/07/natan-slifkin-rewriting-jewish.html

  80. Fotheringay-Phipps

    1. I don’t agree that many – if any – black hatters understand “nishtana hateva” to be a euphamism.

    2. I do agree that the modern crop of charedi anti-CP people are going against and distorting the words of Chazal. But the leader here was R’ Wolbe. His own views on the matter seem to have been exagerated and expanded by others (e.g. he wrote that an occasional whack if the situation is getting out of hand is OK) but he was certainly the big proponent. See e.g. what R’ Dessler had to say about the anti-CP position in ME.

    3. According to my teenage kids, a lot of the charedi novels and other literature of this sort are plagiarized from secular sources. E.g. they say they read a complete mystery novel that was almost word for word from an Agatha Christie story (although the husband-wife team in the AC story was changed to two men, and the like), and who knows how much got past them if they didn’t happen to read the original.

  81. What is the evidence that the second type ever existed?

    Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky provided the evidence from Reb Boruch Ber’s example:
    http://dafyomireview.com/article.php?docid=68&style=print
    Also, I just stumbled upon this thread and “bombmaniac”‘s testimony in a meaningful debate with SJS:
    http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/coffeeroom/topic/potching-today/page/2
    (Please note that despite the multiple uncanny similarities, I am not “bombmaniac”.)

  82. R. Yaakov wasn’t the one spanked. I’d love to hear what R. Boruch Ber’s grandson had to say.

    But that said, when I was a kid my grandfather occasionally gave me “shlek.” It was so obvious that he loved me dearly, and I never felt otherwise. He didn’t beat me up, and I bet R. Boruch Ber didn’t beat that gransdon up either (although again, let’s heat ir from him and not R. Ya’akov, who was saying over a story).

    What does this prove? No one ever suggested that all parents in history who hit their kids didn’t do it with love, and for that matter many parents today are still quite capable of that – some yes, some no. So I don’t get how this turns into a general rule about the prior generations and today?

  83. Note that R. Yaakov himself was reputed to have been the first melamed in his little shtetl who spared the rod – to the outrage of the parents. R. Yaakov was, what, 30 years younger than R. Boruch Ber? I realize that times change at a certain point in time, but so many others of R. Yaakov’s generation were utterly unaware of it.

  84. Sorry for so many comments, but the thoughts just keep coming. 😉

    I don’t really see the exact point being made. That R. Boruch Ber wasn’t an average person, is surely the contention. Is the point that if you go back far enough, to the time of Chazal and those who codified (or did not change) the halacha, average parents (among Jews alone?) hit with the love that only a few like R. Boruch Ber could do in the 1920s? Is this what you’re saying, and if so, what you actually believe?

  85. Yes, that’s what I’m saying and what I believe.
    The fact that Rav Kaminetzky defined the necessary criteria for CP but felt unqualified to meet them himself kind of underscores my point. Thank you for pointing this out for me.

  86. is it always the baalei horaah or is it the community itself that leads at times (think of bat mitzvah, or other items the middle ages (see jacob katz’s books)).

    =================
    I t depends, are we being recorded 🙂
    KT

  87. Steve Brizel – “Are you, and by extension ,Dr Finkelman claiming that R Wolbe ZL’s approach, which R Kelemen relies on, is not rooted in Chazal and Rishonim”

    Why not?

  88. We’re all speaking as if spanking is outrageous and barbaric and obviously wrong. Who says? According to an ABC poll from 2004, 2/3 of Americans think corporal punishment at home is perfectly acceptable.

    I personally think spanking is the best possible response to certain behaviors. For example (an extreme one, to be sure), if a child says “shut up” to his parent while standing in front of him/her, I can think of no better response than an immediate smack accross the face.

    I think this ties in to the general conservative/liberal divide in this country. Liberals think conservatives are vestiges from the Middle Ages while conservatices think liberals are out to lunch. Count me among the conservatives.

  89. >Dovid Kornreich on October 31, 2011 at 5:24 pm
    “I really wish STBO would respond in person because I suspect he had those same kind of examples in mind, and they DO NOT support his particular critique of Rabbi Waldman’s book.”

    I do indeed have some particular examples in mind! I’ve been quite busy over the past 24 hours and have to apologize for letting this dialogue languish in the face of other tasks that have been pressing harder. I’ll post some of my thoughts soon.

  90. baruch – “think corporal punishment at home is perfectly acceptable.”
    i don’t think anyone here is speaking about the ocasional patsch for misbehavior. in the days od old – till recently (last 50 years would be my guess) it meant hitting with some instrument (ruler or strap perhaps, whip maybe). see definition below from wikipedia.

    Corporal punishment is a form of physical punishment that involves the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behaviour deemed unacceptable. The term usually refers to methodically striking the offender with an implement, whether in judicial, domestic, or educational settings.

  91. baruch – “I think this ties in to the general conservative/liberal divide in this country.”

    inflicting pain for disciplinary reasons is sort of illegal in many states. again, its a false argument of liberal vs conservative. then again, i will not be surprise if some here agree with consistent beating of a child for disciplinary reasons because the halacha theoretically (for a minor) does not forbid it.

  92. >We’re all speaking as if spanking is outrageous and barbaric and obviously wrong. Who says?

    Interesting point. I never realized what Birckenstock wearing hippy dippy liberals R. Yaakov Kamenetzky, Rabbi Wolbe and his talmid Lawrence Keleman are.

    (Note that we’re not necessarily discussing an occasional spanking, although I have no doubt that some feel that this could never, ever be justified. There is a difference between this and beating a kid up, or ritualistically pulling a kid’s pants down and whipping them with a stick, or other things perhaps not quite so shocking, but which were common and apparently acceptable ways of discipline in the past.)

  93. Baruch,

    The kind of punishment that used to take place went far beyond spanking – spanking blows do not result in manslaughter like this case:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haidbauer_incident

  94. Fotheringay-Phipps

    S: “Note that we’re not necessarily discussing an occasional spanking, although I have no doubt that some feel that this could never, ever be justified. There is a difference between this and beating a kid up, or ritualistically pulling a kid’s pants down and whipping them with a stick, or other things perhaps not quite so shocking, but which were common and apparently acceptable ways of discipline in the past”

    These things may have been common, but they’re NOT the things that Chazal approved of. Chazal admonished to hit lightly (using a shoestring), and seforim like the SA Harav et al warned parents to be careful not to hit more than necessary, or they would violate the prohibition against hitting another person.

    So if you’re looking for revisionism, you need something more than that. There are a lot of things that were – or are – common and are not approved of by Torah or Torah authorities.

  95. Rafael Araujo

    If the supposed Chareidi approach to CP is to write it out of existence, (led by R’ Wolbe and his talmidim), and such views are not in accordance with CHAZAL, what is the MO approach to CP? Just asking.

  96. Fotheringay-Phipps – try mishlei – chapter 13:24
    ” He who holds back his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him early.”

    i guess a rod is now a shoelace? revisionism depends on which side of the aisle one doesn’t want to be.

  97. f.p.- gemera in makkot
    אמר ר׳ יצחק
    מאי טעמא דרבי יהודה דכתיב ימה המכ ות
    האלה בין ידיך ואמר אשר הכתי בית מאהבי
    ורבנן ההוא בתינוקות של בית רבן הוא
    דכתיב:

    Makkot 22b relates that Zechariah 13:6, “What are these wounds?…Those which I was wounded in the house of my beloved,” refers to the beatings administered to school children.

    shoelaces do not leave wounds. this is chazal not some revision of what they have meant.

  98. Fotheringay-Phipps

    OK, but you’re accusing Chazal of being revisionist. That’s not what we’re discussing (unless your position is that Chazal equare to charedi).

    To be clear here, my position is that RYK was not revisionist, and that RSW (& RLK) were/are.

    The specific point being countered was the implication, by S., that calls for moderation in CP (e.g. by RYK) were revisionist by virtue of contradicting common practice of prior years.

  99. The kind of punishment that used to take place went far beyond spanking – spanking blows do not result in manslaughter like this case

    Which reminds men of another relevant parallel – corporal punishment for slaves in the Torah. Not saying I have answers for all of these issues.

  100. “The specific point being countered was the implication, by S., that calls for moderation in CP (e.g. by RYK) were revisionist by virtue of contradicting common practice of prior years.”

    Huh? Not at all. Read the story. He said nothing about prior years (at least in the version there). He only said that it is permissible to spank if you could spank the way R. Boruch Ber spanked. In this story he neither denies nor refers to anything in the past, not Chazal, not common practice, nothing.

  101. By the way, a common plaint in the writings of European mischadshim was about what they saw as stupid and ignorant melamdim whose idea of discipline was to wield a cruel whip. You find the same thing in ‘Tom Sawyer,’ where Mark Twain has the schoolmaster, undoubtedly meant to represent an actual type from his childhood. Of course we see that in the 19th century too many of those who received spanks looked back on it with contempt as adults. It’s hard to see why that should have been different in the 18th or earlier.

    It is not impossible – and maybe it’s obvious – that the reason for saying it like R. Wolbe in terms of what was and is no longer permitted is a way of avoiding the fact that the original critics of this element of traditional society wasn’t the rabbis, and that those critics were right. I’m not saying that they must be acknowledged, but taking the contemporary position is a way of arriving at the same result without giving the same criticism.

  102. Fotheringay-Phipps – i was commenting on your statement below. chazal approved of corporeal punishment for children – translated as beatings. with a shoestring – no. a strap of a sandal etc yes.

    “These things may have been common, but they’re NOT the things that Chazal approved of. Chazal admonished to hit lightly (using a shoestring)”

    as to lightly – see the rambam:

    “A teacher may employ corporal punishment to cast fear upon [the students]. However, he should not beat them cruelly, like an enemy. Therefore, he should not beat them with a rod or a staff, but rather with a small strap.” a beating is a beating. today, your children will or can be taken away from you – at least in america.

  103. Fotheringay-Phipps

    S: “Huh? Not at all. Read the story. He said nothing about prior years (at least in the version there). He only said that it is permissible to spank if you could spank the way R. Boruch Ber spanked. In this story he neither denies nor refers to anything in the past, not Chazal, not common practice, nothing.”

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I wasn’t saying that RYK claimed to be changing from only. Only that you were presenting his position as a break from tradition. And it’s not.

  104. Leaving aside for a second what has been scandalously absent from this discussion (namely the repeated injunction of Shlomo haMelech, speaking with Ruach haKodesh, to exercise physical discipline on one’s son) does anyone seriously think children since the decline of corporeal punishment are more pleasant and moral beings that their forebears? That they go on to become more happy and well adjusted adults?

    Nor, by the by, is the increasing indiscipline and unpleasantness of children restricted to the secular (or MO) world. Charedi people over 50 (who comonly went to non Jewish schools) are tearing their hair out at succeeding generations who speak a mangled illiterate yinglish, have zero kivud horim (except for Rebbes they see once a decade), can’t be bothered to go to schul before 9:30, can’t be persuaded by hook or crook to put just one single sefer back on the shelf, think being financially reliant on their parents is an acceptable alternative to a full day’s work and, in the worst cases, commit chillul Hashem by spending their shabbos afternoon’s rioting.

    Maybe this is one of the occasions when instead of looking for intellectually satisfying ways to justify our patent disregard for the teachings of the Torah, we start trying to accomodate ourselves to them, even if only in a piecemeal fashion

  105. To clarify part of the previous remark, when Chazal discussed physical discipline of minors they were not simply judging matters by ‘the standards of the day’ they were systematising and explaining the teachings that are loud and clear in the Tanach. Now perhaps the Tanach also just reflects the standards of its day(s), but by that point you are a conservative Jew.

  106. Menachem

    “the increasing indiscipline and unpleasantness of children”

    It sounds good, but I don’t buy it. People have been complaining about the declining youth for – literally – thousands of years. Maybe what’s happening is that today’s kids will be as fine as yesterday’s when they grow up, with the added bonus that they got manhandles less by adults.

  107. Menachem – ” …we start trying to accomodate ourselves to them, even if only in a piecemeal fashion”

    Get the rod and that we solve the issue

  108. Menachem – my apologies for hitting send by accident and the typos.

    ” …we start trying to accomodate ourselves to them, even if only in a piecemeal fashion”
    do you think beatings is the way to instill obedience and whatnot in our children?

    “increasing indiscipline and unpleasantness of children”
    beatings increase our childrens’ pleasantness? [more sir, please i can i have some more – reb oliver]

    rather, i suggest:
    Get the comfy chair….no, no, no, no – Get the the soft cushions – no, NOT the soft cushions – reb monty p.

  109. menachem – “the teachings that are loud and clear in the Tanach”

    what other teachings do you think are loud and clear?

  110. >Dovid Kornreich on October 30, 2011 at 6:11 pm
    “To STBO (or other readers who agree with him):
    How about some concrete examples instead of simply bad-mouthing the book and requiring us to take your word for it?”

    Sure, there are several examples (and anyone deeply interested should read the book for themselves!).

    Re: rationalism, here’s one excerpt starting on page 107 (the author is discussing why humans seem to have many more burdens than the animal kingdom: And sicknesses. Humans are extremely frail and constantly subject to all types of sicknesses. Animals suffer from far fewer ailments when left alone in their natural habitat. Humans, who in so many ways are superior to all animals, are also in many ways frailer than animals. Why is this so?

    I’m not sure — is this in fact so? Has the author looked into it? Upon what data did the author base this assertion?

    The author gives the following explanation for the complexity of human beings and the human condition (p.109): If we’ll just study all of the above human frailties closely, we will come to the obvious conclusion that, as usual, God has designed everything perfectly, and more so, we will see that there must be a greater world that God has created us for. We will come to realize that this world is only a preparation for the eternal World to Come. Ultimately, we have been endowed with all of these needs, desires, and complex character traits, etc., for one reason; because we were put in this world to be tested by God in various ways.

    OK. But is such a conclusion really “obvious”? Could there be some other reason, or dimension, to our existence?

    He continues (p. 112): All of these desires were planted in us to constantly challenge us, thereby enabling us to spiritually improve ourselves in order to be worthy of more and more in Olam ha-ba. One can also gain in his spirituality by practicing different levels of abstinence from any of the physical pleasures available to him in this world, thereby making himself a holy being which will surely make him worthy of closeness to God in the World to Come.

    This is a mussar perspective. It is interesting. It is not rationalist. Nor does the author (to my knowledge) ever claim that his book is rationalist. It’s a label that seems to have been attributed to it by others.

    p. 113: Raising children. Raising children is a major test. Will you raise them with the proper spiritual values? (In other words, will you let your children destroy their souls by allowing them to become exposed to the pollution of the TV, VCR, Internet, etc.?)

    Rationalist?

    On p. 170 he relates the following: A world-famous, nineteenth-century Emperor of Russia, once asked a Church official for proof that God existed. “The Jewish people,” the clergyman answered.

    Is this so? Who was this “world-famous” Russian Emperor? The only thing I could find online was a seemingly apocryphal story regarding Frederick II of Prussia (i.e. Germany).

    A more disturbing result is found when the author tries dealing with the Divinity of the Torah in Chapter II. The above link contains some of the passages. In short he asserts that: “Virtually all contemporary Bible scholars no longer side with the conclusions of the early Bible critics. Except for a few real “diehards,” they have all retracted their claims. They all now agree that the evidence stands overwhelmingly against the Bible critics and their assertions. And, thus, nowadays most of them trust the Torah to be historically true and accurate even where no evidence has been found.”

    Really? Virtually all academics agree with traditional Judaism?

    The claim is false. But it demonstrates the value the author places on the perception that academics agree with a religious viewpoint.

    p. 243: “However, an amazing phenomenon has recently been discovered. The flow of blood to the head in kosher animals (called ruminants) is physiologically different from the flow of blood to the head in non-kosher animals – and only kosher animals – immediately stops the blood flow to the brain, causing instant death.”

    Is this so? The vascular anatomy of kosher species is so dramatically different from that of non-kosher species? I wish the author had cited a source for the statement.

  111. For decades, our answer to the anti-shechita lobbyists has been that shechita is not cruel because the extremely sharp knife cuts the trachea and esophagus as well as the carotid artery, which causes an immediate drop in blood pressure and the cow loses consciousness. The cutting takes less than half a second. (and just like we feel the pain a while after we cut ourselves, the cow doesn’t feel the knife cut)

    The animal rights activists responded that although the carotid artery is cut, there is still another artery, the vertebral artery, and bec. this isn’t cut, the blood continues to the brain and there’s no sudden drop in blood pressure and the cow suffers for a few long minutes.

    In an article I read several years ago it said, in 1988, an Arachim lecturer read an article from Australia. It said that all this is true except for ANIMALS THAT CHEW THEIR CUD. Their vertebral artery is different, it curves downward, and when the carotid artery is cut, all the blood in it never makes it to the brain. It enters the carotid artery instead and is stopped by the knife. All the blood drains out.

    Story about a surgeon who heard this at an Arachim lecture and he said, “I’m going to check this out! If you’re right, I’ll come back with a black yarmulke bec. this is incredible. But if I discover in the professional literature that this is baloney, then I’ll come back and tell everybody that you’re taking advantage of their ignorance of zoology and anatomy.”

    The surgeon came back with a yarmulke and his kids go to religious schools.

    If you really want to verify it, you can contact Arachim and ask them for sources. Alternatively, you can speak to a veterinarian or zoologist who knows about the anatomy of domestic animals.

  112. “Is this so? Who was this “world-famous” Russian Emperor? The only thing I could find online was a seemingly apocryphal story regarding Frederick II of Prussia (i.e. Germany).”

    The story – Google Pascal and “the Jews” – is popular on web sites like Aish. I have no idea if a king ever asked Blaise Pascal for proof of God, and if he replied “the Jews,” but in his Thoughts he does dwell at length on how the Jews – unconverted and undestroyed – are striking witnesses for Jesus.

  113. >“In an article I read several years ago it said, in 1988, an Arachim lecturer read an article from Australia. It said that…”

    Well, if an article said that an Arachim lecture said that an article said that it’s true, I suppose that’s good enough.

    Let us posit that it’s in fact true — is it a “proof” for the Torah? “Covincing Evidence of the Truths of Judaism”?

  114. “Re: rationalism, here’s one excerpt starting on page 107 (the author is discussing why humans seem to have many more burdens than the animal kingdom: And sicknesses. Humans are extremely frail and constantly subject to all types of sicknesses. Animals suffer from far fewer ailments when left alone in their natural habitat. Humans, who in so many ways are superior to all animals, are also in many ways frailer than animals. Why is this so?

    I’m not sure — is this in fact so?”

    If it is true it would be that weak and sick animals get eaten by other animals-we in general take care of our weak and sick-they are not eaten by other animals-that does not make us frailer than other animals it means that we can survive frailty-a frail animal gets killed almost immediately.

  115. Some people don’t seem to have a clear grasp of what the term ‘rationalist’ means in relation to philosophy. Hint: it’s not the same thing as empiricism.

    ruvie – what other teachings do you think are loud and clear?

    Well, I suppose that one is not allowed to wear garments woven from wool and linen, or eat an arneves. No doubt you were angling more for something like “we should stone a rebellious son” and “in times of war we should kill all males and take pre-pubescent females as slaves”.

    Clearly, there are occasions when Chazal tell us that the true meaning of a text is not what we might otherwise interpret it to be. More controversially, there could be occassions when Chazal taught things without any real basis in the Torah based on contemporary wisdom. But, on the other hand, if Chazal actually affirm the simple interpretation of a passage and expound what this entails, and this is accepted and codified by Rishonim without demurral and this understanding persists until the advent of cataclysmic social changes in the non-Jewish world, the full consequences of which are only just beginning to become manifest, maybe our duty as Jews is to step back and consider, maybe, whether it is we who are in the wrong and not Shlomo haMelech.

    On that note, consider what he says: moneia shevet, sonei b’no [!]. Obviously this teaching is paradoxical and, just as obviously, not everyone at the time accepted it (or why teach it in such a fashion?). Doubtless there were people who didn’t use physical punishment on their sons because they thought it was cruel, or unpleasant, or they just couldn’t be bothered. What Shlomo haMelech says to them is ‘you may think you are being kind, but in reality you acting as if you hate your children, because your indulgence will lead to them growing up to be lazy wasters who let their house and farm go to ruin whilst they run after attractive women’ (to take some of the dominant themes in Mishlei).

    Now what I would expect from Modern Orthodox people is, if not uncritical and resigned acceptance, at least at some sort of open minded awareness of the what is being said and thoughtful discussion of how we might integreate these teachings into our lives. All I’m hearing is, effectively, that Shlomo haMelech counselled child abuse and we should ignore him.

  116. Menachem: Some people don’t seem to have a clear grasp of what the term ‘rationalist’ means in relation to philosophy. Hint: it’s not the same thing as empiricism.

    In Jewish intellectual history, rationalist means something else. Dr. David Berger makes that point in his article in Judaism’s Encounter with Other Cultures: Rejection or Integration? (p. 62n).

  117. Steve Brizel

    Simple question for R Gil and Dr Finkelman-cannot one argue that many of the most famous hashkafic works also implicitly or explicitly incorporate “secular influences as a means of incorporating the same for the readership of that period in history? If so, why would anyone be surprised or shocked at works by Charedi authors that do the same for their community?

  118. Steve: The issue is doing so and thereby contradicting traditional Torah sources. Can you name a famous hashkafah work that does so?

  119. Menachem:

    So are you saying that people like R. Wolbe who counsel deviating from Mishle and Hazal in conformity with contemporary educational ideals are essentially Reform or Conservative Jews?

  120. menachem – “Well, I suppose that one is not allowed to wear garments woven from wool and linen, or eat an arneves. No doubt you were angling more for something like “we should stone a rebellious son” and “in times of war we should kill all males and take pre-pubescent females as slaves”.”

    no, i was looking for something serious. i always wonder how we ignore not giving our eldest son – pi shenayim – a double portion if its mandated by the torah and is ratzon hashem. i more curious about anomalies than sensational stuff that can be easily explained away (or re- interpreted by chazal like ayin tachat ayin).

  121. ruvie — see Ken Bloom on October 18, 2011 at 8:16 pm in http://torahmusings.com/2011/10/organ-donor-cards/.

    Everyone does this, no?

  122. IH. – and how many religious folks use an halachik will? But to the subject of giving your eldest a double portion – it would seem that Hashem’ s ratzon is just that. So why do even try to circumvent that to begin with? Why don’t we follow ratzon Hashem that is explicit in the Chumash – especially the more frum crowd?

  123. Menachem – “….when Chazal discussed physical discipline of minors they were not simply judging matters by ‘the standards of the day’ they were systematising and explaining the teachings that are loud and clear in the Tanach. Now perhaps the Tanach also just reflects the standards of its day(s), but by that point you are a conservative Jew.”

    Please consider the topic of yibum (not that I would ever accuse chazal of being like conservative judaism). It would seem that chazal preferred the out of chalitza over the the ratzon of Hashem”s yibum mandate because people were not into it or had the proper kavanah as the days of old.

    In our day and age if rabbis and gedolim believe that beating a child is counter productive and ineffectual why would you disagree that a beating would bring compliance and obedience? Because at one point n time it might have? Would you recommend slavery for people declaring bankruptcy because that’s what the Torah calls for? Rather, one can say at a certain time it was a valid way with dealing with the circumstances of the time – like yibum – but I would not call this conservative judaism.

  124. Steve Brizel

    R Gil-how many critiques, articles and books have been written attempting to “reconcile” the views of Rambam in MN and the Yad ( i.e. starting with Rambam’s view on Karbanos as stated in the MN).

  125. Steve Brizel

    R Gil and others-IMO, one can easily posit that many of the major Hashkafic trends beginning with Rambam based rationalism through the Baalei Musar all adopted external means of thinking as a means of presenting ideas in a way that would appeal to a generation that was attracted to a particular philosophical trend in the non-Jewish world or as reactions to particular cultural and political changes. On that basis alone, Charedi popular literature has many historical antecedents.

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