Jonathan Rosenblum

Re: the recent discussion between Jeff Ballabon and Yitzchak Adlerstein over the “state interest” in protecting children from lousy parenting.

The issue came up recently in Israel in the context of settler mothers who bring their infant children to demonstrations to prevent withdrawal, which the mothers could reasonably have anticipated would turn confrontational and even violent. One radio show described a mother lying down in the mud, with a five-month-old infant strapped to her. Legal action against mothers who expose their children in this way is being contemplated, and could theoretically result in a loss of custody.

Here is how I see the poles of the debate. At one extreme, children are clearly something more than just an extension of their parent, to do with what he or she pleases. . Even our own bodies are not ours to do with as we please — e.g., the prohibition against tatooing. “Our bodies our selves” is clearly not a halachic slogan.

On the other hand, it is one of the hallmarks of totalitarian states that they recognize very few perogatives for parents in guiding their childrens ‘ upbringing and education. Children in such societies are viewed as belonging to the State.

The United States Supreme Court wrestled with the possibility that the interests of parents and children might differ in the Yoder case, dealing with the right of Amish parents to refrain from sending their high school age children to school. The Court created a limited exception to Wisconsin’s truancy laws upon a showing that the Amish children generally grow up to be good, self-supporting citizens. (I’m working from distant memory here.)

This issue is of vital concern to Orthodox parents. It is alleged that in Israel social workers, who possess a great deal of discretion, are quick to take children from religous parents and place them in non-religious homes. There have already been suits by chareidi children against the state for failing to ensure that they were provided a decent secular education. And the Israeli Supreme Court might well strike another blow at the yeshiva ketana (high school age) system, in which there are traditionally no secular studies, in the name of the right of children to an education that will allow them to earn a livelihood. Already the Court has ruled that the state may not continue funding such a system, and the next step would be to rule that students in the system are considered truants.

Just noting that this is a notoriously knotty area. I certainly agree with Jeff that it is a bit absurd to say that states may require parental consent for tanning studios but not for abortions.

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1 Response

  1. David Brand says:

    R’ Jonathan (Yonasan),
    I don’t know why you believe that this issue is so knotty. To me, it’s quite clear. Granted that Halacha prevents us from believing in the “our bodies, our selves” type of approach, but why does that necessitate governmental involement in such affairs? As you have written, the courts have taken on a scary amount of authority, though it’s not as bad in the US as it is in Israel (albiet it’s just different degrees of the same problem). Therefore, our approach should be that it is ALWAYS bad for the government to take on parental powers and it is ALWAYS good for parents to have parental powers. I know that some will argue because of certain circumstances, where the children suffer because of the parents. That’s precisely my point. Governments try to take away freedoms “because of the children”. That’s how it starts. Eventually, freedoms deteriorate until we have children suing their parents for this or that.

    Separately, I would like someone to start a thread regarding other areas where the Orthodox community has advocated on certain issues (even on the advice of Gedolim), but where those that advocacy has resulted in a net loss of freedom. A recent (within the last couple of years)example would be the strong push to have fertility treatments covered by health insurance. I’d love to air that one out!

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