When Rabbis Used To Slap Students

Marc Shapiro writes:

Even though, as mentioned, teachers were never supposed to inflict real pain, I think it is fair to say that the physical punishments over the generations sometimes did get out of hand (see next note). I recall vividly one rebbe who would squeeze kids’ arms and even throw them against the wall. Today, in every Modern Orthodox school and even some haredi schools, that type of behavior would be grounds for immediate termination. Regarding how students were physically punished in the great yeshivot, we have reports of Roshei Yeshiva and mashgichim who would slap students in the face. See e.g., Moshe Tzinovitz, Mir (Tel Aviv, 1981), p. 464; Shaul Stampfer, Ha-Yeshivah ha-Litait be-Hithavutah (Jerusalem, 2005), p. 335 n. 76. Even R. Naftali Zvi Judah Berlin, who was a very gentle person, would occasionally slap a student in the face. On one occasion this even led to the students going “on strike” (i.e., ceasing all Torah study) in protest against the Netziv’s action. They viewed the slap as an insult to the entire student body since this was the sort of thing one would expect a melamed to do in a heder, not the rosh yeshiva of the great Volozhin. The Netziv was forced to publicly apologize to the entire student body. See M. Eisenstadt, “Revolutzyah ba-Yeshivah,” Ha-Tzefirah, 1 Sivan 5676; Stampfer, Ha-Yeshivah ha-Litait,

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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