“The advantage of hitting over other forms of punishment is that it results in full submission. The modernisers’ arguments against hitting because it is dangerous are sheer nonsense. For the teachers are righteous and skilful, and injuries of pupils do not represent the smallest fraction of daily sports injuries every day.”
Above: Rabbi Mendel Lowen
It turns out the Sunday Times investigation into illegal corporal punishment in hasidic schools in London is largely based on reports in FailedMessiah.com, especially two reports (please see here: Part 1, Part 2) on Rabbi Medel Lowen's infamous kuntres (booklet) arguing that teachers should use corporal punishment:
…A separate Sunday Times investigation into private Hasidic schools has uncovered evidence that some schools are failing to safeguard children.
Parents and former teachers say some schools have been slow to implement the 1999 ban on corporal punishment in independent schools, but this is denied by senior community members.
However, an advisory document written in 2011 by Mendel Lowen, who taught for more than two decades at a north London Hasidic school, said that while teachers should make an effort to follow the law, hitting may be possible in some circumstances under current legislation.
The document, circulated among teachers in the Hasidic community, states: “The advantage of hitting over other forms of punishment is that it results in full submission.
“The modernisers’ arguments against hitting because it is dangerous are sheer nonsense. For the teachers are righteous and skilful, and injuries of pupils do not represent the smallest fraction of daily sports injuries every day.”
Lowen said last week that the document was a discussion paper that made clear teachers should follow British law, which clearly prohibited striking children. He said corporal punishment was not used in any Hasidic schools and he would condemn its use.
The ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is based in Stamford Hill in London and in Salford. The children attend privately run primary schools from age 3 to 13, which focus on teaching the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and Talmud, the written version of Jewish oral law. At 13, boys attend yeshivas, where they are taught in Hebrew.
Internal documents from the Department for Education (DfE) reveal that officials have had concerns about some of these schools for at least five years.
￼Rabbi Mendel Lowen authored a pamphlet which recommends hitting children. One document from September 2009 estimates that in the London borough of Hackney, which includes the Stamford Hill district, 800-1,000 Jewish boys aged 13-16 attend unregistered yeshivas where the curriculum is entirely religious.
“Some Orthodox Jewish schools often do not devote priority and time to the secular curriculum,” it adds.
Independent schools do not have to teach the national curriculum but must teach a broad and balanced range of subjects and promote British values.
One Hasidic mother said some schools devoted only an hour a day to non-religious subjects. “You can’t teach children to read and write, never mind learn geography and science in an hour a day... It should be deemed child neglect to allow children to be educated in this way.”
The mother, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed that she knew of children who had been slapped in the classroom as a method of discipline. “It is usually smacking with an open hand on the face or round the back of the head if they are answering back,” she said.
A former teacher in the community said he also had concerns about the use of physical punishment. He said: “The hitting is not planned. It is more spontaneous, from what I’ve heard. The teacher uses whatever is to hand, like a blackboard rubber.”
In giving evidence to the all-party parliamentary humanist group last month, one former pupil of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school told how he grew up speaking almost no English, receiving just 30 minutes a day of a “normal” curriculum.
Some Hasidic primary schools have been praised by Ofsted, but action is being taken against the Talmud Torah Chaim Meirim Wiznitz School, where pupils told inspectors in January of incidents in which a teacher had given a small “slap” with the hand, and that this was sometimes threatened as punishment. Teaching was found to be inadequate. The lessons were in Yiddish and some children were not even being taught English.
The school denied any child had been hit and said it challenging Ofsted’s recommendation to shut down the school.
An inspection of Talmud Torah Yetev Lev school in June found parts of the school were “untidy, dirty and in a poor state of repair” and staff had inadequate training in child protection. The school said the issues were being addressed and that it had a strict policy against corporal punishment.
The DfE said it would take robust action against any failing schools and anyone with evidence of corporal punishment should contact the police.
Lowen was a teacher at a Skvere hasidic school in London for decades.
Here are a few excerpts from Lowen's kuntres:
• One who gets used to following his reason from a young age will end up losing his faith and will leave Judaism (page 2, note 8, quoting the book Da’at Kedoshim)
• Development for children: One of the basics [in the modern world] is to encourage the development of the child’s mind (because the mind is the basis of their education), both in study and also in play. But the basis of faith is entirely based on the annihilating of the mind and intellect to [be replaced by] the tradition received from his parents and educators. And when he is young and not developed, then is the best time to plant faith in his soul, , and how can we destroy this with development to remove his naiveté. And relevant to this is the flooding of all kinds of [Haredi] magazines for children with illustrations and logical explanations, so that every child becomes a knowledgeable and informed person… [causing] development which destroys naiveté, faith and tradition. And also [Haredi] books written by the pious need to be inspected in this respect. (page 3, and note 17) [The author apparently means that providing children with facts and with illustrations supporting those facts and logical explanations of things teaches a child to think logically and seek out empirical evidence for his beliefs – and all this poses strong challenges to having pure faith in God and in haredi rabbinic leadership – FailedMessiah.com]
• Education to not know: The old way always was to refrain from talking about many subjects in the presents of children about “subjects that are not for children” (even regarding permitted subjects, and even more so regarding subjects that approach the forbidden)” But the reformers argue, why not? It is better to explain to the youngster according to his capability so he shouldn’t remain with questions and misunderstandings. Because according to their view knowledge is the safeguard, but for us absence and refraining is the safeguard. (page 4)
• Those who snub [physical] force [i.e., corporal punishment] and instead educate with “will” are forced to build confidence in the child so that he should believe in his maturity… but the education of the Torah is the opposite, to overpower the will of the body and its desires, and educate toward meekness and humility. (Page 8)
• …and the way of [educating by] force has always been with punishment, as it is written in Shulchan Aruch that one must get angry at them and shame them. Also with the punishing rod, as the sages said that the teacher beats his students. And we find three good ways that this is done: 1) with a small strap for slacking in study, 2) also strong beatings to remove him from evil when repudiation doesn’t help, 3) to hit even when he did no sin (note 121: and even a child who will never sin, so that he should learn to accept torture out of love. However, [Rabbi Yosef Haim Sonenfeld] writes that perhaps this applies only to a grown student, not a minor). And the reasons for hitting are to weaken the power of their evil inclination, to throw a fright over them, to make them obedient… (page 22)
• …as the Gaon Rabbi Elyahu of Vilna wrote in his letter, “because for the success of planting one needs plowing… therefore one needs to first hit him.” Also when the fright of their teacher is over them it will help that they should learn quickly. (page 23)
• …but what the reformers say that we should instill strength and confidence in their hearts and that they should not be shamed, out Torah tells us the opposite... (page 26)
[Hat Tip: D.O.]