Historic Letter Reveals Rav Nachman Of Breslov’s Opinion On Corporal Punishment: “To Hit A Child?!”


The recent discovery of a letter by Rabbi Avraham ben Nachman of Tulchyn has sparked great public interest. Rabbi Avraham’s father, Rabbi Nachman of Tulchyn, was the closest disciple of Rabbi Nosson of Breslov, commonly known by the acronym “Moharanat.”

He succeeded Rav Nachman of Breslov and promoted and broadened his Chassidic movement and teachings. In this letter, Rabbi Avraham cites Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s opinion regarding the corporal punishment of children and the great risks and perils that it can engender. The letter, whose value is estimated at thousands of dollars, was up for public sale at the Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem, on Tuesday, 8 Iyar.

The letter discusses Rabbi Nachman’s opinion on corporal punishment of children and cites a message that Rabbi Avraham’s father, Rabbi Nachman of Tulchyn, heard from Rabbi Nosson of Breslov in the name of his teacher, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov:

“I heard from my father who heard from Moharanat, that Rabbeinu [Rabbi Nachman] ZT”L, strongly felt that hitting children constitutes grave risk, and Rabbeinu once asked in an astonished tone to Moharanat: “A kind shlogt men? To hit a child?” Later, he cites a source for Rabbi Nachman’s words in the Talmud, which states that one should only strike a child with the strap of a shoe since it is not dangerous.

It should be noted that corporal punishment as a method of disciplining children was widely practiced throughout the world until the end of the 20th century. The first law prohibiting spanking children in school was enacted in England in 1987. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who lived in the eighteenth century, was thus a revolutionary voice in child-rearing who, by strongly criticizing the practice of hitting children as a form of discipline, advocated caution in educating children.

Rabbi Avraham Halevi Chazzan (d. 1917) was one of the admired leaders of the Breslov Chassidic movement both in Jerusalem and the Diaspora and famous for his prolific writings on the Torah of Breslov. He was the son of Rabbi Nachman of Tulchyn, one of the prime disciples of Rabbi Nosson of Breslov. In 1894, Rabbi Avraham journeyed to the Holy Land and settled in Jerusalem, but returned annually to Uman, Ukraine. During World War I, he made the harrowing annual pilgrimage to Uman, where he was forced to remain. He passed away at the end of the war in Uman and was buried in the local Jewish cemetery. Numbering among his famous works are Kochvei Or, Bikur HaLikutim, Sippurim Nifla’im, Yemei HaTela’ot, and more.

Rabbi Avraham promoted and disseminated the teachings of Breslov to thousands. His manuscripts, which frequently cite his father’s teachings, are regarded as key sources for the oral Torah of Breslov. He inherited the famous Megillat HaSetarim of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov from his father Rabbi Nachman of Tulchyn and bequeathed it to his righteous disciple Rabbi Isaac of Uman.

CEO of Kedem Auction House Meron Eren remarked: “This is a rare historic item of inestimable value. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s unqualified approach that derives from this letter sheds light on the historic Jewish approach toward corporal punishment in child-rearing. Today, hitting children is spurned by all educators, but in the past it was universally accepted as a legitimate aspect of disciplining children, and in its historical context, Rabbi Nachman’s differing approach is fascinating.”

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem/Photo Credit: Kedem Auction House)


  1. Hachosech es shivto, soneh es b’no. Not saying to wack’em, like crazy, but let’s not pretend there’s no place for a patch in yiddishkeit. If you’re breslov, follow your Rebbe, but please don’t try and pretend other Gedolim didn’t hold of patching if done correctly in the right circumstances.

  2. I have two problems with this article.

    1) It suggests that hitting children is obsolete. Unfortunately, that is not true. In reality, the use of “corporal” punishment is highly reduced from how it was just a generation or two ago. But it is still live and well, and probably more damaging than it was back then.

    2) The use of the potch was substituted with similarly lethal forms of discipline. I refer specifically to punishments that are rejecting, including suspensions, expulsions, and a variety of forms of shaming. These have devastating effects on children that are often long lasting. Any form of punishment that is not educational (teaching right from wrong and accepted by the child is dangerous, and is not true chinuch. I refer to yeshivos and schools as well as parents. The message of the potch witht he shoe lace is a model for all forms of punishment, not the cruel and abusive forms of rejection and derision we see too often.

  3. Very interesting article, thank you. I attended a very well known frum boys elementary school in the early 70’s and at that time already in my school at least, it was unheard of for a child to be hit. Not sure whay was doing elsewhere but I’m amazed when people I mention this to are surprised by it.