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Articles by Dr. Billy Levin

Corporal punishment in children from a Religious point of view

Wednesday, 17 July 2002
©Dr. W.J. LEVIN MB ChB (Pta)

Corporal punishment is degrading, embarrassing, painful, abusive and harmful to children and has no benefits other than relieving frustration in an inadequate and ignorant adult bullying perpetrator.

"Science does not prove that G..D is right. G..D proves that science is right". ("Genesis and the Big Bang" by Gerald Schroeder, a pious Jew with a double doctorate in science.) As a very religious person he has no difficulty writing a book to resolve the age old conflict between science and religion. In fact he states there is no conflict!

Whenever man has accepted the wisdom of G..D humbly and unconditionally because of his faith in a "higher being", man has never been disappointed nor let down. Eventually, sooner or later science has proved the custom or law to be correct and valuable in every aspect. These are a few examples:-

In the Jewish faith one is not allowed to have milk for a set period of time after having eaten meat. Milk reduces the effect of the gastric juices in digesting meat. There are also laws governing when and how and what meat may be eaten, that were known from Biblical times. Today these laws would be seen as very scientific and medically correct.

Jewish woman who follow the faith strictly will attend a communal bath (the Mikva) after their menstrual period has ceased. There is also a requirement not to have sex until the 14th day after the start of the menstrual period. This coincides with ovulation time thus insuring maximum fertility for conception. I am very certain the ancients did not know about the Physiology of conception. Devine intervention?

Bathing in (washing) running water as a means of reducing the spread of infection was practiced in Moss's times, yet surgeons only recognised this as a means of reducing infection at the end of the 18th century.

The age of bar mitzvah for a Jewish boy is 13.. The bat mitzva for a girl is at 12 years of age. Girls are more mature. It is recognised that at approximately this age there is a distinct maturing from a cognitive point of view that would make the person more responsible for his actions. The very word "Bar mitzvah" has this very significant meaning.

Once again in the Jewish faith, the ritual circumcision (Brit Mila), is done 8 days after birth. Circumcision done at this age results in a dramatic reduction in cancer of cervix in that person's future wife. But even more significant, is the fact that Prothrombin and Vitamin K, both needed for clotting of blood the prevent serious haemorrhage and so discourage infection is at an optimum at 8 days after birth. Moreover the baby has all his maternal antibodies to assist him to overcome any infection that might result from this circumcision. At a later stage in his life his mother's antibodies that he still has in his own circulation as an infant(8 days old) would decrease to nearly zero. The child would not have had enough time to have been exposed to the various germs and developed his own antibodies yet. Thus there would be a greater risk of infection if the circumcision was done at a later stage. Who new of Vitamin K and Prothrombin in those days. Clearly Devine intervention.

All these are examples of strict ancient religious requirements having a very good scientific explanation when viewed with our modern knowledge of today.

Therefore if science proves corporal punishment is harmful for children, G..D must has known about this harm long before man researched it. Therefore "PROVERBS 13, 24 (spare the rod and spoil the child), written by King Solomon must have been interpreted by man incorrectly. The learned sages warn that some of King Solomon's writings are notorious for being misunderstood. The bible is always right, man may make mistakes. Unless of course, science is incorrect!

Proverbs are attributed to King Solomon who was renown for his wisdom. He was a very aggressive and violent king, although many would use the words "harsh" and "strict". If he used the rod on his children it certainly bred much aggression in his son, .. who succeeded him. Solomon's son on his succession to the thrown is quoted as saying "If my father lashed the people with lashes, I will lash them with scorpions" Aggression breeds aggression. History tells us that this King brought about the downfall of the Hebrew kingdom and the splitting of the nation with his ruthless rule. The people were eventually forced to rebel against his tyranny. What Solomon had built up he broke down. His aggression and harsh rule brought ruination . Therefore the wisdom of Solomon is instantly challenged, or perhaps more correctly the interpretation of his writings. In the case of the two mothers fighting about whose baby it was, did Solomon have the wisdom to know the real mother would not want her child divided in half, or was it Solomon's callous disregard for life, to get rid of two nagging women. If it was a callous suggestion, then it was G..D's wisdom that saved the child and Solomon saw the wisdom of G..D. Solomon, after all strayed from the Lord by praying to idols with his many heathen wives. He also married out of the faith which should be questioned. That he was harsh and cruel is well documented. It was this harsh, cruel and straying King who wrote the proverbs including Proverbs 13,24. Because of his tendency to use aggression during his rule, he might well have also used hash aggression and punishment on his own children and produced an even harsher and crueller ruler to follow him, who ruined the nation and provoked then into rebellion. Was this not the same situation with apartheid in South Africa resulting in the overthrowing of the government's tyranny, but the legacy of aggression lingers on. Corporal punishment in schools would certainly breed aggression long after it was banned in schools.

On the Festival of the Passover it is obligatory to retell the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt to your children every year lest they forget. To the traditional "four sons", each with a different capacity for learning ranging from good to possibly very poor, there is not mention of corporal punishment even for the one who cannot learn. Only repetition.

During the hard times in the Sinai desert, when there was a shortage of water the Israelites complained to Moses, who asked G..d for help. Help was forth coming via the famous Rock. In frustration and desperation Moses is alleged to have struck the "Rock" with his cane instead of speaking to it as instructed by G..d.. Who can blame him? On a previous occasion,( 40 years previously,) just after the crossing of the Red sea, Moses was instructed to strike the rock to provide water. If one considers the Israelites would be more impressed with the striking of the rock as they were used to physical force and punishment as slaves for 400 years. But 40 years later they were learning to be a free people with no need to have aggression shown to them or used to teach their children. Hence the change in modis operandi. "Talk to the rock!" Yet there was a severe punishment metered out by G..d. to Moses for having struck the rock. Moses would never enter the land of Canaan. How much more should the punishment be if innocent children and even perhaps sometimes not so innocent children are struck with a cane? Do parents and teachers get punished for hurting children? Yes, instead of the pleasure and pride of well adjusted children they have to grieve and suffer aggravation for their misdirected efforts. If G..d does not want the cane to be used even on an inanimate object like a rock, how much more so in the case of children. The important question is am I interpreting the situation correctly? But in Psalm 23, King David says " Thy rod and Thy staff shall comfort me". This does not sound like a weapon of destruction. G..d's rod and staff is certainly not intended to inflict pain, and neither should ours. It is for our comfort, guidance and protection.

Has man misinterpreted the bible before? The answer is emphatically, yes, on occasion but not always. Man with his limited knowledge and lack of insight has misinterpreted the bible before, on occasions. Like the broken telephone game played by children each interpretation could be even further from the original intended truth. Man is fallible. However the Torah (given at Sinai) and rewritten in exactly the same way and wording by expert scribes over more than three thousands years, has not changed. ( to an accuracy of 99.9% ) This in itself is considered a miracle. With the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in the 20th century, untouched for two thousands years, it was possible to compare them with a modern recently written scroll to prove this point. How correctly has man understood and interpreted the book of Genesis and the story of the Creation? Here are a few examples of possible misinterpretation:-

The interpretation of the Hebrew words "Vayehi Orr ", is "And there was light" ( Genesis ) The planet was cooling down from an astronomical "black hole", that did not even allow particles as small as a photon to escape it's gravitational force, to a molten fiery planet that glowed with light.. "And there was light". G..D did not create light, it was there. In Genesis we read about the creations .The sun was only placed in the heavens as a sign of the time on the fourth day(Genesis ). G..d knew we would use the sun's path as a calendar even then already.(Genesis ) So we may conclude the light referred to here was not from the sun, but a glowing planet busy cooling down to allow man to inhabit it many millions of years later.

In the Bible we read about the cherubs that were placed on the sides of the Tabernacle ( Exodus) . Just so we should read that Eve was placed at the side of Adam.(Genesis ), and not created from his side. She was intended to be a life long partner. In Yiddish, a Jewish dialect of the German language, one would say "she walked from his side", meaning she walked at his side. " At the side"' referring to the cherubs was the same wording that referred to Eve at Adam's side. "At the side" not from his side. If Eve was created from Adams side (ribs), she would have the "x' any "y' chromosomes that men have. She only has the "x" chromosome that woman have. At the end of each day of creation there is a statement made :- "And there was evening and there was morning"( Genesis ). This statement is made from the start of creation. On the third day of creation the sun was placed in the heavens. Thus the phrase, "and there was evening and there was morning" could not have referred to our understanding of morning and evening. It certainly could have implied that before creation there was chaos and disorganisation. After the specific creation was completed, there was order and organisation. The ancient Hebrew wording for chaos suggests "darkness", and when someone sheds some light on the chaos there was, not morning, but order.

At the start of creation G..d commenced his miracles on a certain day when the world was ready . The Hebrew words "Yom echad", meaning "On a day (on a certain day) (Genesis ) are used to signify the commencement of creation. .It did not mean "On day one", which would be in Hebrew "Yom Rishon". The creation was not intended to convey a message that it took only one day, but rather on a certain day G..d started creation.

An "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth"( Leviticus ) certainly does not mean we should poke out a criminal's eyes or punch out his teeth in violent and aggressive retaliation. It is intended to convey the message that the punishment should fit the crime, measure for measure when compensation is considered.

We should not misinterpret the word "Rod" or "staff' (cane). A shepherds crook is used to guide sheep, not hurt them. The "flock " was often used to indicate, the people, who should be led, not beaten with a shepherd's crook. To use a "crook' to guide your children somehow does not seem correct. The word "crook' has sinister connotations. A rod or staff is more acceptable. The rod is meant to guide and not inflict pain upon innocent children. A pastoral staff forms part of the regalia in certain churches. Once again the reference to leading the Pastor's flock with a guiding staff, and not inflicting pain. The reference is to a staff in the media of the then spoken word. I am not sure when the word "crook" came into the English language, but it was certainly not used in biblical times. A crooked staff with a bend in it was used to catch the sheep's legs, not to choke it by the neck.

Children were not intended to be beaten in submission or bullied into retaliative aggression but rather to be guided gently as with a Shepard's crook. Children with a neurological dysfunction (Attentional Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) do not yield to this type of discipline and even to aggressive beatings. They require sympathetic medical, educational and sometimes psychological help. These dysfunctional children form the vast majority of severe behaviour problems encountered among children and they are largely misunderstood, neglected and abused by ignorant well meaning ,and sometimes not so well meaning adults and teachers. Children who do not have a neurological dysfunctions may some times stray off the beaten track but they are self correcting with a minimum of guidance. These children respond very well to discipline. They do not need punishment. Discipline and punishment are totally different situations and should not be confused with each other. They are totally different.

Discipline is the loving way of TEACHING children, at the right time, in the right way, at the right place and at the right age. It should be used frequently and repeatedly and lovingly."

"Punishment is the unpleasant task of having to UNREWARD a child for having done wrong despite adequate discipline. It should be used seldom, sparingly, forgivingly and judiciously."


Corporal punishment is never an option! Both these definitions, which I formulated about 20 years ago, assume the child does not have a neurological dysfunction such as Attentional Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In this case the medical treatment is of paramount importance and a first priority to make the child more teachable. "You cannot teach a child if you cannot reach him. You cannot reach the child if he cannot concentrate and pay attention. He cannot concentrate without the benefit of stimulant medication if he has ADHD. Here medication is not the be-all or end-all, but rather the first step onto a long ladder that the team (parents, teacher, child etc.) has to climb to succeed.

As far back As 1985, Professor Holdstoch wrote a book entitled "BEAT THE CANE". He was professor of Psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand and founded a parent support group called "Education without fear." This was a case for the abolition of corporal punishment in schools in South Africa. In America, England and most of Europe this had already been achieved, in some countries in the previous century! Ten years later Professor Kiebel (professor of paediatrics) wrote in the South African Medical Journal( February 1995) about his disgust that corporal punishment still existed in schools. He was criticised in the journal by colleagues(July 1995) When I supported his opinion with a letter to the same journal (October 1995), there was a stony silence from his critics. It still took a few years after this, for corporal punishment to be banned in South Africa schools. Some religious (pious?) organisations even went to court to have the law banned! South Africa was one of the last of the so called first world countries to prevent hurting children officially in schools.

As clear as the evidence suggests that corporal punishment is detrimental (and not with standing the law banning corporal punishment in schools a T. V. program recently, "The Big Question" took a studio and viewing audience vote on the matter, agreeing it was acceptable to hit children. Did the presenters or the audience know they were voting in favour of an illegal, dangerous and banned practice. Ignorance is not bliss. It is dangerous. These dangers were well demonstrated in the media, about the many violent and aggressive practices in cultural initiation schools for blacks resulting in tragic deaths of young children from beatings in July 2002.

It would be fitting to conclude with the phrase "Ye who amongst us, who is without sin, should cast the first stone". I would also like to include to those who doubt what I have suggested, "Seek and ye shall find". Both these very wise comments are attributed to Jesus of Nazareth. Solomon was quoted as having said "a wise man has his eyes in his head." I cannot remember where the eyes were in a fool! He is also quoted as having said "it is far better to be chastised by a wise man than to listen to the song of a fool!" (Ecclesiastes)

Some years ago when a Professor Garry Meyers and I both spoke at an international symposium on ADHD he related a story of the state of Alabama instituting a law that a misbehaving child could only be punished twice. Thereafter van automatic referral for a Neurological evaluation. Misbehaving children need help not punishment. There should be no confusion between discipline and punishment. Children are "people" too.

©Dr.W.J.Levin
Tuesday, December 05, 2000



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