Hitting one’s children

Hitting one’s children:[1]

It is permitted for one to hit his small children for disciplinary measures. This applies even to [non-biological] children that are part of one’s household, such as an [adopted] orphan [or foster child].[2]

At what age may a child get hit? It is forbidden for one to hit his adult children.[3] One who hit his adult children would [in previous days] be placed in excommunication as he transgresses the prohibition of “Lifnei Iver Lo Sitein Michshol.”[4] A child is considered an adult in this regard from age 24 years old.[5] The main time of educating a child is from age 16-24.[6] Prior to age 16 the child does not have enough maturity to fully receive reproof from his parent, and one is thus not to chastise him and give him too heavy of a punishment. After 24 years old however there is worry that perhaps the child will rebel and fight back.[7] [If however the child is already married, then he may no longer be hit by his father even if he is below the above age.[8] Likewise, if the child is already looked upon as an adult by society, he may no longer be hit, irrelevant of age.[9] Likewise, if the child is of age and/or of temperament that he would retaliate for being hit, such as by hitting his parent back or cursing him, then he is considered an adult in this matter and is forbidden to be hit.[10]]

For what reasons may a child be hit?[11] One’s small children may be hit for their personal benefit. For example, they may be hit for disciplinary measures to educate them in Torah and Mitzvos. They may also be hit in order to teach them Derech Eretz [proper manners and Midos, or for their personal safety].[12] Furthermore, if one’s children are disobedient and do not listen to his instructions, he may hit them even for his own benefit, so they become obedient and listen to instructions.[13] If however, the children are obedient and listen to his instructions, it is forbidden to hit them when it is not for their benefit just as it is forbidden to hit any other person.[14] One who does so transgresses a negative command of hitting a fellow Jew.[15] [One is to always first try to discipline the child through other methods prior to hitting him, and only if these methods do not work may the child be hit.[16] There are many disciplinary philosophies in practice today which substitute hitting for other more useful and harmless methods.[17] It is incumbent upon parents to train themselves to become effective disciplinarians so their children are disciplined, but not in an abusive manner.]

How to hit: Even when a child needs to be hit for disciplinary reasons, he is not to be hit with cruelty as do to the fools. Every parent must do so with wisdom.[18] When necessary, the child may be hit either with a hand, or with a belt or rod.[19]

Not to threaten a child by saying he will get hit later on:[20] If a child needs reprimanding, one is not to threaten the child that he will hit him later on, but is rather to either hit him immediately upon him doing the action, or is not to do anything at all.[21]

During the three weeks:[22] From the 17th of Tamuz until the 9th of Av one is to avoid hitting the students [or children[23]] during these days [even with a belt[24], and certainly not with a stick or rod[25].] [Some Poskim[26] however rule one may hit a child using hands. Other Poskim[27] rule that even using one’s hands to hit is included in the prohibition. Some Poskim[28] rule that this restriction does not apply in a room with a Mezuzah. Some Poskim[29] rule that there is no restriction to hit on the outer limbs such as the hand and leg, and the restriction is only with regards to areas of the inner limbs. Some Poskim[30] rule that the above restriction only applies between the 4th and 9th hour [of the day]. Other Poskim[31] rule that one is to be stringent through the entire period of time.]

It is Biblically forbidden to hit one’s child for non-disciplinary reasons or unjustifiably. Even hitting for disciplinary reasons is permitted only when the child is still young enough to absorb the hit and become disciplined. Such a child may be hit to educate him in Torah, Mitzvos, Derech Eretz, safety, or obedience to parents. In all cases one must first try to discipline the child in other measures and may not use excessive force.


May one hit a child out of anger?
It is Biblically forbidden to hit a child for non-disciplinary reasons. Thus, if one hits out of anger simply in order to pain the child and quench one’s fury, he transgresses a Biblical command. Even if one is also doing so in order to educate the child in one of the above-mentioned matters of which it is permitted for the child to be hit, nevertheless, it is not legally or Halachically advisable to hit one’s child when angry. The reason for this is because it a) Leads to excessive use of force, beyond that necessary; b) Causes one to misjudge the child’s guilt and the proper measure of discipline deserved by the child. Thus, one is to first calm down and only then cool headedly hand over the necessary measures of discipline. Many a times a parent is already agitated about other issues when he comes to hit the child, and in truth that hit contains previous anger and frustrations which are now being unjustifiably released on the child. Such a hit may carry a Biblical prohibition, even though its purpose is also for disciplinary measures. As a word of advice: Calm down, have a drink, eat something, set a time to think over the child’s behavior, investigate the child’s side of the story, and give a proper and effective disciplinary action. Don’t hit just so you feel better, hit with a purpose that benefits the child.


Is it legal per secular law to hit your child?[32]
According to United States law in all 50 states it is permitted to hit a child with reasonable force for disciplinary measures. Nevertheless, some states only allow hitting with a bare hand while others allow rod spanking and the like. In all states it is illegal, and against Halacha, to hit a child out of anger or other non-disciplinary reasons, or with excessive force, and one who does so is liable to get arrested under counts of child abuse.

Is hot saucing a permitted and legal form of disciplinary action?
Halacha: According to Halacha, using hot sauce would seemingly have the same status as hitting a child, and may be used for disciplinary measures, although is forbidden to be used out of anger and without justifiable reasons. Nonetheless, its use must be measured in appropriation to the child’s age, offense, and standing health of the child. Health concerns: Some pediatricians warn against the practice as it can cause an allergic reaction, swelling of the tongue and esophagus.

Secular law:[33]  There is no law in the U.S.A. that prohibits hot saucing as a disciplinary measure, although in some jurisdictions it can be considered a call for concern.

What parents say:[34] Many parents strongly advocate against hot saucing while others claim it is a painful but harmless and effective disciplinary measure.

Sparks of Chassidus

A Chassid does not hit a child:[35]
The Rebbe Rayatz once related: A father who hits his child may be a Tzadik, compassionate and righteous, although a Chassid he is not, as a Chasid does not hit.

Hitting one’s child should bring him pain:
Even when one is forced into reprimanding his child through physically hitting him, this should cause him much pain to the point he feels like crying. A story is told of Rav Yitzchak Shaul, a dear colleague of Reb Baruch, the father of the Alter Rebbe, that his father wept bitterly after smiting his child for cruel behavior.[36]

The Torah requires one to be a loving disciplinarian:
The Sages[37] state that three matters are to be dealt with love of one’s right hand and sternness with ones left hand: 1) The evil inclination; 2) Children; c) Women. This means that one must balance a proper measure of revealed love and care to a child together with discipline. If a child is only shown disciplinary measures from his parents it can make him rebel. It can potentially damage his emotional health and relationship with the parent, and cause long term effects down the road of his life such as in his relationships with his parents, siblings, spouse and own children. On the other hand, if the parent is not a disciplinarian it teaches the child bad character traits, and can also lead to damaging effects down the road of his life. It is therefore incumbent on a parent to show a child both love and discipline in order to properly balance the child’s emotional health with a good character. On this Chazal stated use a right hand [i.e. love] and a left hand [i.e. discipline], but using just one is counterproductive and potentially damaging.

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[1] Admur Hilchos Nizkei Guf Vanefesh 4; Michaber Y.D. 240/20; Rama Y.D. 233/1 regarding a child who makes vows; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 143/18; 165/1; 184/2

[2] Admur Hilchos Nizkei Guf Vanefesh 4 in parentheses; Admur 156/9; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 184/2

[3] Michaber Y.D. 240/20; Admur ibid “small children”; Moed Katan 17a

[4] Michaber ibid; Moed Katan ibid; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 143/18

[5] Admur Hilchos Talmud Torah 1/6; second opinion in Rama 240/20 as explained in Shach 240/21; opinion in beis Yosef 334

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule it is forbidden to hit a child from age 22. [Rama 240/20 says “22 or 24” and Shach 240/21 explains that this is a dispute in Poskim, some say 22 and some say 24; Rashal Kiddushin 68, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 240/16; Opinion in Kiddushin 30a and so rules Rashi ibid] Some Poskim rule the prohibition applies at age 22 although excommunication is only given from age 24. [Rashal ibid]

[6] Admur ibid based on merge of the two opinions in Kiddushin ibid; See Igros Kodesh 2/168

[7] Admur Hilchos Talmud Torah 1/6; Rashi Kiddushin ibid

[8] Rashal Kiddushin 68, brought in Pischeiy Teshuvah 240/16

[9] See Rashal ibid

[10] Ritva Moed Katan, brought in Birkeiy Yosef 240; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 143/18; This does not contradict the Rama/Admur ibid as they mentioned the average age regarding this matter, although in truth the determining factor is whetehr the child will become obedient or retaliate back. [Ritva ibid]

[11] Admur Hilchos Nizkei Guf Vanefesh 4 in parentheses; Rambam Rotzeiach 5/5; Makos 8b

[12] The reason: As this kind of hitting is intended for their own benefit, and the parent is responsible in benefiting the children that are within his authority. [Admur ibid in parentheses]

[13] Admur Hilchos Nizkei Guf Vanefesh 4 in parentheses; Taz 240/1 based on Yerushalmi and Ramban that Beis Din may choose to hit children so they perform the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av.

The reason: As it is permitted for a parent to force his children to listen to him, as is commanded of them [in the Torah “Honor your father and mother”]. [Admur ibid]

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule it is forbidden to hit a child so he perform the Mitzvah of Kibud Av. [Smeh C.M. 107/2, based on Rama 240/1, brought in Taz ibid; Opinion of Rosh who argues on Ramban ibid]

[14] Admur Hilchos Nizkei Guf Vanefesh 4 in parentheses; Braisa Bava Kama 87b

[15] Admur Hilchos Talmud Torah 1/13 regarding Melameid who hits without Reshus

[16] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 165/1; See Sefer Hasichas 5704 p. 15 that a Chassid never hits and rather uses other measures

[17] See https://www.loveandlogic.com/ for a wonderful disciplinary philosophy which is both harmless, and effective, and almost completely avoids the need to ever hit a child out of discipline. 

[18] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 165/1

[19] See Taz 551/18; M”B 551/103

[20] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 165/7

[21] This is due to a story which occurred that a child which was threatened to be hit went and committed suicide out of fear. [Kitzur SHU”A ibid]

[22] Michaber 551/18

[23] Levush 551; Kaf Hachayim 551/230

[24] Taz 551/18; M”B 551/103

[25] Piskeiy Teshuvos 551/57

[26] Ashel Avraham of Butshetch 551

[27] Peri Megadim 551 M”Z 18

[28] Ashel Avraham of Butshetch 551

[29] Ashel Avraham of Butshetch 551

[30] Peri Megadim 551 M”Z 18; Levush 551; Siddur Yaavetz

[31] Tosefes Chaim Chayei Adam 133/17

[32] See here: http://blogs.findlaw.com/blotter/2014/06/is-it-legal-to-hit-your-kids.html

[33] See here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A52909-2004Aug9.html; and here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hotsaucing

[34] See here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A52899-2004Aug9.html

[35] Sefer Hasichas 5704 p. 15

[36] Memoirs Vol. 1 p. 334 [English edition]

[37] Sotah 47a; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 165/7

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1 Comment

  1. Michael

    There is a story about a rebbe who hit his son for refusing to make the bracha on tzitzis, although the son claimed that he had already made the bracha.

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