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Physical punishment of children should be discouraged unless there is no other way to get a child under control - and when it is done, it should be with a single light tap with the palm of the hand followed by a big hug so the child doesn't think the parent hates him or fear there will be more punishment to come, a leading rabbinical arbiter said on Wednesday.
Rabbi Shlomo Daichovsky, a member of the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Jerusalem, was one of the speakers at the seventh annual conference of the Puah Institute for Fertility and Medicine According to Halacha. The 12-hour conference, attended by hundreds of men and women separated by a barrier and held in the Nof Yerushalayim hall, was on the theme of "Men's Health; Childhood, Adolescence and Adulthood."
Corporal punishment for one's children is a controversial issue, as it has been prohibited by secular courts, while the Book of Proverbs says: "He who spares the rod hates his child." United Torah Judaism MK Shmuel Halpert recently stirred an uproar when he admitted in a Knesset committee that he had hit his own children from time to time and personally approved of it.
Daichovsky said some rabbis in the Talmud state that if a father or teacher hit his child and inadvertently caused his death, he is exempt from punishment. He cited a rabbi who wrote that even a child who exhibits exemplary behavior can be hit from time to time, even making up a story to do so. But the Supreme Rabbinical Council sage said he disagreed with this view.
"Not all children are equal; not all generations are equal. In the past, hitting a child for educational reasons was acceptable everywhere, including in Britain, and adults were flogged as well. In our time, things have changed. We are different from our parents and our children are different from us. Corporal punishment for children creates anger, so I don't see it as an educational ideal. But in certain cases and at certain ages, there is no way to avoid a light slap, for example, if a child passes a toy store and goes wild because he wants you to buy a toy fire truck. One can give a light slap to restore him to balance," Daichovsky advised. But one should never hit a child with an object, and teachers may not hit their pupils or anyone pull a child's ear. If a parent gives a light slap, it must be clear to the child that there are no hard feelings, he added. To bar even an occasional light slap by parents is to create a law that they cannot live with, he concluded.
Another interesting ruling was by Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Halperin of Jerusalem. Halperin said that it was absolutely forbidden for Jews to smoke - either to start or to continue - and that the prohibition is from the Torah and not just from rabbinical sources.
Research, said Halperin, has clearly shown that smoking significantly shortens life, and that the chances of living to one's 80th birthday is reduced to half if one smokes. With dozens of toxic substances in cigarette smoke and all smokers suffering from bronchitis, with a high risk of lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other severe disorders, there is no excuse for smoking, he said. Citing the rulings of other rabbis, Halperin said that smoking is considered as suicide or murdering yourself. One could even violate Shabbat to get someone to stop smoking if you can't do it on a weekday and if there is a good chance that you will succeed, he said. A smoker cannot serve as a witness, he said, especially in a wedding - and knowing this will discourage many religious men from smoking. Halperin called for the end of the common practice among haredi Jews to give a cigarette to a young man when he gets engaged to be married. "It is a vile act and must stop," he declared.
Ramat Gan chief rabbi Ya'acov Ariel, who was slated to speak about homosexuality and Judaism, did not say the word explicitly, but denounced the "Open House" organization in Jerusalem that supports homosexual rights of the individual. He said that a "home" is the domicile of a man married to a woman who produce children. "A house with open doors is not a home, it has no privacy," he said. "Infertility is a mishap that can often be corrected. It is unnatural for partners [of the same sex] to live together. It is a rotten foundation."
Ariel criticized the growing tendency of modern Orthodox young Jews to delay marriage or to delay having children after marriage so they can get on with a career, education or travel. He urged the government and institutions to do all they could to help young married women who want to study or work and have children by establishing day care centers. "I accuse the politicians, leaders, academia and industry of preventing young couples from having normal homes. They have to get help," he said.