Sunday, May 19, 2013

' Nasso-73 'Punishment is not a deterrent - it can encourage bad behavior !

The weekly Bible reading of Nasso from the book of Numbers has the laws dealing with an unfaithful  woman –the  ' Sotah' who having being warned by her husband not to be alone with a certain man, is then reported by witnesses as seeing her alone with him in a secluded place. She is brought to court and 'miracle waters ' are used to test whether she committed adultery or not. This procedure is carried out only if her husband was free of sin and exceptional in his relations with her. If she committed adultery the waters caused her suffering and disgrace.The following section deals with the Nazarite who wants to become more holy, so he abstains from wine, abstains from cutting his hair and from coming into contact with the dead for a month. The sages ask why the section dealing with the nazarite comes after that of the Sotah= unfaithful woman.
The positioning is to teach us that if someone witnesses the unfaithful woman being disgraced, he should abstain from wine for a month and contemplate how the inappropriate use of drink can lead to illicit relationships.
The obvious question asked by the commentators is that shouldn't the punishment suffered by the unfaithful woman be enough of a deterrent against the inappropriate use of wine?
It is similar to a situation where a teenager has seen someone lose his driving license and been heavily fined, decides to stop driving for a month to reflect on safe and responsible driving.

The answer can be found in research showing that teenagers that visited prisons to impress on them that crime does not pay , became more  impressed by the audacity of the inmates, being real ' macho' men , taking on the establishment. The visits had the opposite effect. When a teenager hears of someone driving 250 kph – his mind is not on the punishment or pain, he is imagining the thrill of driving so fast and the driver becomes a hero. When someone is caught for inappropriate sexual conduct, the mind is more attracted to the pleasure of the forbidden fruits than the punishment.
The medrash commentary tells of a man who was very much into drink. He met a man suffering from a hang -over. He went over to the man and asked him from where he bought the wine. The same goes for drugs – the more potent, the greater the damage, the greater the pleasure.

The lesson learned here is that punishment is not a deterrent. Rewards and punishments are very similar in that they teach kids to ask – what will I get, what will be done to me, what's in it for me.  So even if you threaten a kid with punishment – he will ask – what's in it for me and the mind will naturally seek out the pleasure and thrill. Punishment, like that in the case of the unfaithful woman, can lead people to ask – what's in it for me – and the mind seeks the excitement of forbidden sexual relations above the pain of punishment. In any case people see punishment as a result of the mistake of being caught and not because of the crime committed as the verse in Jeremiah 2:26  כְּבֹשֶׁת גַּנָּב כִּי יִמָּצֵא.   The shame of a thief is to be caught.
So is exposure to crime reporting in the media a good thing? Do kids learn that crime does not pay or perhaps what remains with them is the thrill of driving 250 kph and the fun? Crime reporting does not focus on values and thus does not help kids reflect on how crime affects others and what type of community do they want to live in. Reward and punishment get in the way of kids asking – what kind of person do I want to be, or does this reflect on my values?

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