Beit Shemesh: When Thugs Run Schools

"Six of the Best" was the expression wryly used to describe the formal punishment of being beaten on the buttocks six times with the headmaster's wooden cane.

Over thirty years ago, I was educated in posh English boarding schools – Malsis School in Yorkshire, and the world-renowned Rugby School (where the game was invented); corporal punishment was encoded for over four centuries into the school rules (Rugby was founded in 1557).

You had to have done something pretty 'bad' to deserve the cane, particularly the top-score of six strikes.
Lesser offenses received lower counts, and there was a range of non-caning corporal alternatives, such as the ruler (across the hand), the shoe and the slipper (on the buttocks). 

I myself managed to complete eleven years of posh schooling, without my buttocks ever meeting the headmaster's cane. (I lost count of the milder slipperings etc).
Although outlawed in England for well over a generation, and in Israel since child protection laws were enacted in the 1950's, many chedarim (religious primary schools) in Israel still practice corporal punishment.

Those responsible for chedarim have pointed to the classic Jewish texts to support this practice:

"He that spareth the rod hateth his child, but he who loveth him chasteneth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24)

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." (Mishne Torah, Chapter 2, Halacha 2.)

A full discussion on the pros and cons of corporal punishment in a school setting is beyond the scope of this article.

Indeed – such a discussion would actually just be a smokescreen…

What has happened in some chedarim is that, under the guise of "corporal punishment", teachers/rebbes are behaving as thugs.

Violence by adults against children under their care has become the accepted practice, by some cheder/school administrators, the teachers, the children (nebech), the parents, the rabbonim, their whole community.

We are talking about teachers allegedly:

* beating small children across the face
* smashing the children's glasses while on their faces
* smashing the children's heads against walls,
* drawing blood,
* permanently scarring skin tissue;
* causing permanent damage to ear drums (from being beaten around the ears)…

and along with inestimable damage to these children's psychological health – and spiritual welfare.

A secular Israeli related that he had been brought up orthodox, and when he was in cheder, the teacher used a whip with three leather thongs to beat him and his classmates. The teacher gave a name to each of the three thongs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Due to the dreadful associations, the boy gave up praying (the central prayer the Amidah opens with "the G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac and the G-d of Jacob"), and eventually entirely left the religious fold. He does not know of even one boy in his cheder class who remained religiously observant into adulthood.

Such violence by adults against small children under their care must be immediately stopped.

Parents and community leaders need to abandon their passive and accepting response to this violence against their own children.

It is not behaviour which can be glossed over as "traditional", "part of the culture" and explained away by using smokescreen halachik arguments which are about corporal punishment in schools.

Even in my posh English school, the lines were clear. Yes, to corporal punishment. But if any teacher had dared, for example, to strike a child across the face (I don't recall even one such incident in ten years in these Christian institutions), the teacher would have been immediately dismissed and in all likelihood the police called in.

And this is not an issue for rabbonim to 'quietly sort out'. The rabbonim (I have spoken to) are well aware of the violence, and have been unable or unwilling to take measures to stop it.

Such in-house hush-hush 'classic' community responses have failed these children miserably.

Unfortunately, the parents themselves have been unwilling to report the violence against their children to the appropriate authorities, due to an overwhelming dread of reprisals. They have a point - there have been several cases in Beit Shemesh/RBS where parents who dared to report child abuse in chedarim have been intimidated and chased out of the community, the city, even the country. 

A community rabbi, well acquainted with the violence, warned that the parents have every reason to be fearful – physically. He claimed that a particular cheder, known for its institutional violence to children, is run by people also capable of violence against adults. "It is an evil empire", he said, grim faced. 

The time has come to call the violent behaviour in some chedarim what it is – criminal thuggery.
These 'teachers' face around nine years in prison (on each count) for their routine crimes against the children. 

And the rings of adults who protect and even justify the thugs, are enabling child abuse – they are themselves criminals under Israeli law. They face six month prison sentences for failing to report these crimes.

The correct and only effective address for parents of these children who are victims of violence by adults, is to report both the thugs and their enablers to the social services and the police.

Parents - All it requires, is to finally put the safety of your child, ahead of protecting the thugs and their cohorts.  


  1. I think the best argument against corporal punishment in schools is the current degenerate state of British culture.
    However, the problem is that the culture has swung too far in the other direction with teachers in secular systems now impotent when it comes to imposing even the mildest discipline, let alone delivering a meaningful punishment of any kind.

  2. Please share more information about this!

  3. Garnel - your comments about discipline are irrelevant.

    I recommend you read the article again.

    The discipline stuff is a smokescreen to hide genuine brutality going on in the schools.

    Don't let the smokescreen distract you too!!

  4. No, my comments are quite relevant.
    There is no place for physical abuse masquerading as "discipline" in school.
    However, as a reaction to the inappropriatesness of physical discipline the school system now forbids discipline of any kind.
    There has to be a balance where order is maintained and students know their place without physically harming them.

  5. As if the pedophilia in haredi schools is not enough.

  6. A concerned parent3 January 2012 at 18:24

    what about the rebbe/molester in one of the local schools T.E. who is still teaching and has access to these poor children every day. Who is going to stand up to the thugs that run this school?

  7. YG: The pedophilia in Nachlaot was not in schools.
    And yes, Garnel's comments are irrelevant. The issue is corporal punishment. We can have a discussion another time about the best way to fix discipline issues in schools.
    I have a friend whose child was hit (not in BS), and she did not report it because she did not want her kids to get thrown out.

  8. The schools/chadarim in RBS are run like mafia families.

    If you dare to complain, particularly to outsiders, you are considered a traitor.

    Not only will your children be kicked out, but no other school will accept them. Your whole family will be ostracized.

    You have to chose the mafia family - and then stick with them. Or else.

    I kid you not.

    You are being unrealistic to ask them to step forward, even to save their own children.

    The rabbi said it right, David - they're an Evil Empire.

  9. Ans the saddest thing of all is that there is no solution to this problem. There is a "black and white" wall of silence and no way to penetrate that wall.

  10. Dear Mother in Israel, look at your links again. One is indeed about schools.

  11. If you know about it, why don't you report it to the police?

  12. All I read was a lot about alleged thing happening any proof or prosecution of these allegations?

  13. The police are unable to prosecute such cases without a victim formally coming forward to report.

    No victim - no crime.

  14. I am a parent who thankfully have had my kids take martial arts. they have been raised to know that no-one is allowed to touch them without permission and without consequence. I simply do not understand how a parent can have a child come home with a story of "my rebbi punched me in the face" and do nothing! I cannot imagine any situation where I would not be yelling and screaming, let alone quite likely get physical. I simply cannot understand how a parent can watch their child be abused like that and do/say nothing. what is wrong with people? I do not accept the excuse that they are scared of the rabbis. Your child was bloodied, what else matters? I was also "disciplined" as a youth in yeshiva - rulers and erasers, but never punched!

  15. Most kids don't tell; most parents don't ask, or listen (carefully enough).

    Every parent should initiate a discussion with their kids, including asking what their teachers do when kids are naughty in school?
    What kind of onashim/punishments are used and for what kind of behavior?
    What does your kid feel about this?

    If you think that the punishments sound excessive, you should bring your feelings/opinions to the attention of the school management.

    If you think the punishments sound cruel, even abusive, then contact Magen for information, advice and a 'reality check'.

  16. Hit my kids at your own risk. Whether that is me going to the authorities or taking care of things more directly, I don't know, because thankfully I have not yet been in that situation.
    Like I told one of the Nachlaot molestors when he threatened me, come to my house looking for violence, and the issue will be quite permanently resolved.

  17. Noted the blog by David Morris regarding the subject of "Child Abuse" in religiously administered schools in and around Beit Shemesh, Israel. Also noted that Mr. Morris attended "posh English schools" where types of punishment for various code infractions have been part of the environment since the 16th century. If such punishment as a fabric of English "higher education" accomplished anything positive is for further discussion. And, I am not knowledgeable of the school system in Israel. However, as an American attending our public schools I did not encounter any corporal punishcment. Needed or not in the United States is a different matter. But, such actions in American public schools are outlawed, and, furthermore, I never considered attending such schools as being under "Christian" administration, and, am most thankful that here in the United States our public schools have complete separation from religion.

  18. Further to my comment related to "punishment of children in schools," with particular reference to the United States, I stand corrected from my previous input in that corporal punishment in the public schools in the United States has been outlawed in 31 states and can be used in 19 states. Of course, such action may be allowed to take different forms relative to the different states. Personally, where I grew up in New Jersey, corporal punishment in the public schools is now not allowed. However, as a boy attending Hebrew lessons in preparation for Bar Mitzvah, my teacher did from time to time extend a little "smack" which, although not injurious, did increase my learning ability. Years later crossing a street in Rome, Italy, a child wanted to run away from a lady and she gave him a real "wack" and said, "basta," I learned the definition of that word!

  19. These people need to be shunned from all communities and have their faces posted on billboards and should be arrested for their actions. Do we really need another Mondrowitz case on our hands..?!


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