Monday, June 16, 2008

how long does shomer negiah apply?

So, as all of us Orthos know, the laws of shomer negiah are VERY serious and are actually from the written Torah.
(surprisingly, wiki has a great article on the subject: )
We've all been drilled about the evils of touching the opposite sex in high school, yeshivah, and recently, in a shiur I listened to online.
But how long should the rules of Shomer Negiah apply? And, in addition, how far must we take our observance of these rules?
Ok, you can stop having a heart attack right now. I am not at all suggesting that Halacha is in any way disposable.
But, we have needs right?
I recently hosted my cousin's fiancee (now, wife) for one of the shabbosim before their wedding. My cousin is very much a Yeshivish Black-Hatter BT who's majorly flipped and very machmir, and his wife is very much the stereotypical girl that goes for a Yeshivish Black-Hatter BT. So I was pretty surprised when my cousin dropped her off at my place that Saturday night after their date and I heard some smooching going on in the front hall. Am I an eavesdropper? Yes. But were they actually tap dancing? Definitely not. Were they breaking the Shomer rules even though they were engaged to be married in only a few weeks time? Can engaged couples smooch without guilt?
What about 40-year-olds? What if someone has been totally shomer their entire life, but also VERY single. (i know, nebach, but it happens! don't forget to add their name to your davening list!) Is someone supposed to go their entire life without having ever known another person's touch? Don't they say it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all? (i'm trying to be romantic here, is it working?) Some of my friends have given themselves 'expiration dates' - kind of like that episode of Friends where two of the characters agree to be one another's 'backup' and marry one another in case both are still single at 30 - except my friends want to skip the wedding part, if you know what I mean.
To give another example, maybe a little less R-rated, I have a 20-something-year-old single female friend (anyone interested? she's gorgeous and a doll) who has maintained her Bais Yacov religious outlook (but with an awesome personality - often the two don't go together, unfortunately). She refuses to participate in any co-ed activities. I kind of think this is a bit silly, I mean, post-high school, surely she's realized there are boys in this world and they aren't all bad! But she insists that part of being Shomer, for her, includes staying away (far, far, away) from the opposite sex. So is she supposed to exist only in girls-only environments FOREVER? What if (G-d forbid) she doesn't get married so soon?
Thoughts? I hope you enjoyed this extra-controversial post - I know I'm definitely going to enjoy reading your comments ;)


frum single female said...

i think that the halacha of shomer negiah is assuming someone will get married in their early twenties and wont have to wait that long before touching someone. im not putting down the halachah, its just that its not meant to be endless shomer negiah. (unless of course u have an awful marriage..)
as for your friend who is avoiding co-ed activities... i dont think thats necessary. sometimes that can encourage social awkwardness. anyway, you never know who one may meet . perhaps she might meet her bashert.

Anonymous said...

halachically theres a problem with a guy showing excessive closeness to a girl who is considered a nidah. theres a strong possibility that kissing would be an issur dioraysah

Adam in the Caribbean said...

I think that there are three aspects to Shomer Negiyah that need to be addressed.

1. What do you do with family members that are considered off limits with respect to SN (i.e. aunts/uncle, nieces/nephews, cousins)? Being BT, but not one those freaked out kind, I obviously find it hard to say to my aunts and niece sorry, but I can't hug you. With respect to my female cousins, I have no problem not touching them. My family is not used to S.N. and my aunts would take offense if I didn't give them a quick hug and peck on the cheek. On top of it, I don't want my niece to feel that G-d took her uncle away.

2. What do you do in a work environment? I leave it at handshaking, which is still seen as an affront in Puerto Rico where workmates of the opposite gender hug and kiss.

3. What do you do with someone with whom you are serious? While being BT, I have done a great job keeping my hands to myself even before becoming frum. Nonetheless, I was engaged before becoming frum and, let's say, I did things I shouldn't have done. Things not requiring clothes.

Let me tell you, the saying that it is better to have loved than not to have loved at all is a pile of crap and was written for the sluts of the world to justify their behaviour. After my engagement fell appart, it took me five to six years to recover emotionally from the damage I had caused myself by doing things I wish I hadn't. On top of that while being almost ten years since the meltdown, I still have vague memories which I wish I didn't have. I feel that I have cheated both myself and my future kallah out of something completely pure and whole.

Personally, being one of those forty-year old singles, I think your friend staying away from co-ed events is a mature decision on her part. I have no desire to touch for the sake of touching, rather to form a life-long bond. Anything else will be regretted for a long, long, long time. I hope my story gives both you and your friends chizuk.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in a frum MO home and so did my wife. When we were engaged we broke the negia rules fairly often and felt very guilty about it afterward. However, after talking to a number of close friends (and accidentally walking in on one), it seems that a lot of engaged couples slip up. I have heard people say that if you can’t control yourself when you are engaged you are going to have a hard time with harchakos during Nidda, we have been married for close to 10 years and have never slipped up during Nida. Negia is a very tough halachah to follow when you are so close to someone and spend so much time with them. I have some relatives that are from VERY frum homes and when they are engaged their parents rule is that they are allowed to see each other once a week.

Maidel said...

i think im going to need my entire lunch break to read all of these comments!

interesting point about Niddah - I guess it kind of is the same thing, or at least the same feelings come up in both cases.

I personally don't think that Shomer rules should apply to family - I hug all my uncles! My I do understand that a lot of abuse that happens in the world is often committed by a family member.

re: anonymous - interesting that the couple is old enough to get married but not old enough that they must still follow their parents' rules!

Dave said...

It’s important to remember that “Shomer Negi‘ah” is not a separate law prohibiting pre-marital contact. It is actually the consequences of two things:
1. The prohibition against intimate contact with a niddah.
2. The social change that occurred approximately 500 years ago (started by the Ribash) of single women no longer observing ritual purity, i.e., no longer dipping in the Mikvah.

Put those two things together, and you get “Shomer Negi‘ah”. In this context, what you say makes perfect sense: this practice started when people were getting married as teenagers. It’s hardly a big deal to refrain from kissing and hugging when you’re going to be married by 18 anyway. It’s a world of difference when you’re a 40-year-old virgin.

Finally, it makes no sense for more mature women not to dip. “Shomer negi‘ah” applies to a niddah, not to a woman who has dipped. So, why punish yourself (and your boyfriend) for no good halakhic reason?

Adam in the Caribbean said...

While Dave's point with regard to the source of S.N. is well taken, I feel his response to the situation is misguided. I will reitterate my age of forty to emphasize that I am not a kid.

From my vantage point, attained from personal life experience and watching friends srew-up their lives, I think I have a basis to make the statement that avoiding contact before marriage, niddah aside, is not punishing oneself, but rather self affirming. I don't think anyone wants to be thought of as solely a sexual partner, but that is what people who don't practice S.N. have become as they are highly expendible.

If, after months of dating and likely during the engagement, she/he no longer wants to get married to you, you are thrown to the wind after physially sharing of yourself. In this day and age, you will see how fast kissing leads to more so don't think it was just a peck on the cheek. After sharing of yourself with some who in the end doesn't want you, you have to ask yourself was it worth it, has it impacted my future shidduch opportunties, how has it impacted your future marriage, and when will I forget?

Healing from this trama does not take weeks or months, but years if one is truthful with themself. To suggest that people stop punishing themselves and partake of something that can potentially emotionally damage themselves and provent them from finding the happiness for which they search is extremely misguided and quite frankly, pathetic.

Maidel said...

good point Adam. We often forget about the emotional ramifications... sometimes a hook-up is not just a hook-up.

Adam in the Caribbean said...

A hook-up is never just a hook-up.

If it would be, one would have to be completely emotionally numb. With all "hook-ups" there is always a permanent loss and never a sustained gain. As a side note, I have a friend who had girlfriend with whom he made out by kissing. She dumped him and it took him a long time to get over it and all they did was kiss.

I don't know about others, but it seems to me that using people to get ones physical needs taken care of is not only self agrandizement at the expense of another's emotional well being, it is downright pathological and evil. There I said it. I think people who either do these acts wontonly or suggest that people could do such acts by manipulating halacha are narsistic and most likely, psychopathic. There is nothing beneficial from expressing desire physically before marriage and much to lose.

Sorry MM for coming on strong, but this is one topic that really disturbs the heck out of me as I thought people wanted healthy, loving and stable relationships. I guess I was sadly mistaken.

Dave said...

I wasn’t talking about hook-ups. I was talking about kissing and hugging and the sort. The context in which one engages in these activities is still his and her own responsibility. Halakhically, however, there is no issue at all, provided the woman has dipped. Telling women not to dip removes that personal responsibility and freedom to choose. Remember: the current situation started as a way to get singles to take pre-marital sex more seriously; the prohibition against all forms of intimate contact was an unintended side-effect that would not have been much of an issue when people got married young. (See the responsum of the Ribash, #425, for this historical precedent.)

So, Halakhah does not ask people to refrain from such innocent activities as holding hands. I think most people would not find it morally wrong to do so. At the very least, halakhically, it should be their decision. So why force niddah upon them?
I think most people would say that being 40 and having never even held hands is punishment. I know from experience how frustrating it is, and even psychologically traumatic. Most people eventually just give in, and feel unnecessarily guilty—not because they have not committed a serious offence (they certainly have!), but because they could have done this without violating halakhah at all. Some of these people even blog about their frustrations (and eventual unfortunate transgressions). I don’t think there’s any moral nor halakhic excuse for forcing “Shomer Negi‘ah” to extend for these people.

Adam in the Caribbean said...

I am an engineer. Unlike doctors and lawyers who if they don't do their job properly a few people die, when engineers fail, hundreds and sometimes, thousands of people die. Because of this scale of potential death, engineers think in a very pragmatic way about all the implications of their decisions. We play, as one of my professors would ask, "bet your life? bet you kids lives?" If one is unwilling to accept the responsibility of all possible outcomes your proposal is not acceptable.

We are not talking about holding hands, as once the issue of niddah is out of the way, people are involving themselves with all sorts of sexual activity. We are not taking about free choice as these women are free to use any mikveh on a don't tell policy. They can go in wearing an engagement ring and voila, they are in. Furthermore, they have free choice to disregard the kares for contact during niddah as well. Believe me, they don't feel guilt about disregarding the rabbis and Torah as is evidenced by the blog you site as reference (I've read it before. She has a great analogy of what it feels like to be an older single). The remorse they feel is that they wish there wasn't stigma attached to their desires. All of the sites that I've found supporting using the mikvah before marriage support the idea of women becoming pilegshot. I don't know of any man that would want his sisters or daughter to be cocubines. I don't know of many women that would like to think of themselves as one either. Saying we are only talking about holding hands and, at the most, hugging and kissing is short-sighted and possibly, naive.

One has to ask what is the ramifications of pre-marital sex on the individuals involved? What does this mean with regard to the ketubah in which the kallah is listed as a betulah? What if she gets pregnant and they break up? How does she tell her parents? Will any man be interested in her for marriage? Will a woman be interested in a man who has a child from an out of wedlock union? If she cannot tell her parents of her pregnancy, will she c"v get and abortion to hide her actions? What does this say about both of them with regard to their sense of tachlis and yiras shomaiyim?

We as a people have become highly decadent and bourgeois. Such characteristics are highly unbecoming. My question, is do we allow people to play Russian roulette with backbone of society (i.e. marriage) for the sake of making life a little less unconforable for some people? My answer to that is a resounding no. But thain again, my friends tell me I have made self-discipline a science. I guess I can nor longer expect Jews to be Light Unto the Nations.

Adam in the Caribbean said...

I apologize for the spelling errors.

Gavi said...

I think the stories you report are unfortunately the result of what could be called "societal observance" as opposed to "ideological observance."

Personally, I first touched my wife when we left the chuppah. While it was tough to wait, it made it much better. And we keep all the harchakos of niddah laws when applicable.

The only way to deal with our "needs" is to get married early - Kiddushin 30b. The fact that people are getting married later and later points to a problem in the orthodox community...

Maidel said...

the point of my original post was to ponder the best way to resolve social issues with Jewish law.

the title of my post reflects the social fact that many Orthodox Jews are staying single for longer - for whatever reason, whether or not that is a choice being made or imposed.

Should the same rules apply when social norms are changing? The traditional, and probably 'right' approach is to maintain Halacha, no matter what the social norms are. But, we all know that some people prefer a little more flexibility. Is this wrong?

(btw - this is not necessarily my personal view, as I havent really made my mind up on the subject, but im just leaving room for more discussion. )

Anonymous said...

I think an important thing to also consider is the issur d'oraysa of a man not "wasting" sperm. Either b/c as a result of not actually having sex the built up frustration causes him to masturbate or b/c a couple will use a condom not to get pregnant, which is equally assur. In either case, as seen in the story of Tamar in Bereishis, this is punishable with kares.

A purely theoretical question, halachically, are girls allowed to masturbate?

Lubab No More said...

People who care about negiah often don't follow very strictly once they are in a situation where they are with someone they like a lot.

One of my frumest friends, who was very much a "date only for tachlis" kind of guy, admitted to me that his first kiss was with a frum girl he was dating in college who he thought he was going to marry. (He didn't marry her in the end).

When I was taking "choson classes" before I got married my Rabbi would remind me not to do anything beyond kissing or hugging which I thought was weird because there was no reason for him to believe that we were touching at all.

Dave said...

gavi: I’m sure most observant Jews who care about halakhah and find themselves still single are not doing it purposefully. Wishing Jewish society to change doesn’t solve the problem that people are single, people are older than 18 (which is around when people used to get married), and people are human. And most of these people will give in to these needs. The question is how to deal with those serious halakhic violations. I don’t think putting your head in the sand while simultaneously getting on your self-righteous high-horse (who must be suffocating), like Adam, is going to solve anything. Educating people about their options is much better. Yes, people might actually hug and kiss before marriage. You know what? That’s exactly what they did before the Ribash’s social engineering experiment began. It was never against halakhah, and it was never “frowned upon”. The only frowned-upon needs that people were engaging in (which the Ribash specifically discussed) were acts of pre-marital sex, which may have been forbidden, depending on how you hold. Amazingly enough, society did not collapse when people were kissing and hugging and all that before marriage—with the rabbis’ blessing, no less! Why do we have to be frummer than they were, when intercourse is really what they were worried about? Personally, I worry about the countless unnecessary transgressions all around us that are a direct consequence of lack of education (which is not even what the Ribash was adovacting).

Adam in the Caribbean said...


I live in Puerto Rico, I routinely see people coming to shul during their long-weekend tefillin dates. My issue is not going to the mikvah for the purpose of hugging and kissing. We both agree, that for the most part, that is innocent. If we could somehow limit behavior to that point, I think that we would be in agreement.

This actually goes to the very heart of the issue. In days gone by, as you and MM pointed out, people got married much earlier. In those days, S.N. was actually far less important. If people didn't wait until marriage to express their love physically up to and including coitus, they usually married each other after the fact. Now people are expressing their affection via coitus without any intention of marriage. They may be serious with each other but are waiting to see what happens. Marriage is not usually the end result of the unions. The emotional and spiritual damage that is incurred via coitus with someone who does not become ones spouse is massive.

Again, using the mikva for the purpose of holding hands and possibly, hugging and kissing is not the issue I have. My question once again is, are we/you/I willing to accept all the ramifications of allowing women to use the mikvah? Perhaps they are only holding hands, I don't know. But after routinely seeing people who are doing much more without going to the mikva and now with the current issue in Israel with women going to the mikva to particpate in tefillin dates, I think we are talking about more.

I am well prepared to accept mikva use for the purpose holding hands, hugging and kissing, as many people succome to such desires. The issues is that as you say people have needs and those needs are very powerful. I know that, sadly, from personal experience. How do you propose we can allow one while forbidding the behavior that naturally follows? If you can give me a reasonable answer, I would more than willing to come down from my "high horse."

Dave said...

Adam: Thank you for formulating the question in such a clear manner. I see it as a choice between:

1. The current situation, where people are already going engage in kissing and hugging and everything else that isn’t intercourse, and intercourse too for a great many. Every single one of these acts is forbidden.

2. Educating the Jewish public about niddah, ritual purity, and all the issues surrounding sex and the moral and emotional responsibility that come with it, much like the Christians do. In this scenario, perhaps many more would be engaging in non-intercourse physical acts, perhaps not, but those acts would not be the gross transgressions they now are. Many might also also engage in actual intercourse, seeing it as “not as bad”.

Historically, we know that situation 2 was the case in the time of the Ribash, or, at least, that’s how he saw it. However, situation 1 did not arise until later, as the age of marriage got later and later. That was never foreseen. So, it’s a question of which situation is better. I see the second one as far better. People wouldn’t be as sexually frustrated all the time. All that psychological damage can be avoided. Countless acts disregarding halakhah would be avoided.

What about people who will have sex who would not otherwise have done so? Well, who would that be? Such people would have to care about halakhah so much that they would not have sex when the woman is niddah, but would still choose do so pre-maritally after she has dipped. I find it hard to believe that there would be many individuals so particular. Even then, how serious would their offence be? If you follow any of the countless authorities that held that Maimonides was gravely mistaken for his position on pre-marital sex, then those offences wouldn’t even be offences at all.

Adam in the Caribbean said...

Dave -

Recently in Israel, the prohibition against unmarried women using the mikvah had to be reiterated as they there was a large contingent of women who were using it for the purpose of obtaining pre-maristal sex within a halachically allowable mechanism. This points to the fact that there are a significant group of people who take the prohibition of contact during niddah seriously while thinking that pre-marital relations is good, clean fun.

Christian eduction even in the fundamental movements is spotty and is not enitely effective. Even they have a fair amount out of wedlock pregnancies and their divorce rate is not hugely significantly below the national average. I know as I have lived around them much of my life, so I'm not sure we can point to them for a path forward.

As you have no halachic mechanism to prevent people freely participating in premarital coitus, I feel very uncomfortable with your proposal. Afterall, even you state participating premarital coitus is likely not outside of boundaries of the permitted. One question is what are they stealing from themselves and their future spouses by doing these actions? How does this support the long-term health of their future marriage? The questions, I have are many.

Having been in both situations of doing far too much and being close to a woman I really wanted to touch, while the "pyschological pain" of not touching can seem excruitating, at the time, the point of having shared myself with someone who did not turn out to be my spouse was far more painful and that pain lasted beyond weeks & months, but several years.

I understand your hopes to ease peoples pain, as I too want to ease the pain of others. Having been on both sides of the coin, I can, honestly say that one pain is far more visceral and long lasting while the other, no matter how much it may feel gut wrenching at the time, dissipates rather quickly.

I honestly don't know where to go from here, as we obviosly see the world from significantly different frames of reference.

Maidel said...

interesting that this has become such a heated comment board - especially since most of you are guys! wonder why sh'n seems to be so much more important to you....

even if it were ok to do anything pre-marital if women 'dipped', without the commitment, why would you trust the woman you're with? why would a woman go to all that mikvah trouble without the commitment of a man? I know I sure wouldn't...

Adam in the Caribbean said...

You are right MM, I would not trust any woman that goes to the mikva for the sake of touching before marriage. Nor would I have much respect for her.

Sadly, there's a great deal of women in the world that don't think the same way you do. The unfortunate aspect of this is that there are a great many women on the upper west side and elsewhere, that are used solely as concubines. "Frum" men are using these "frum" women for their needs while the women are hoping they can snag the guy for marriage by having sex with them. It is a truly sad affair.

Dave said...

Maidel: exactly. People won’t start having sex all over the place just because they can.

Adam: If it’s permitted, why should we take such drastic measures to prevent it if end up causing real halakhic violations? If it’s forbidden (which seems to be the opinion of most modern-day rabbis, following Maimonides), then dipping doesn’t help. It’s a Biblical transgression either way (ספר המצוות makes this clear, though it would be a double violation without dipping). So, the rabbis should be educating the public about this. People don’t know these things because their teachers are too busy talking about niddah and lying about a non-existent prohibition against single women dipping. Ignorance is never the answer—education is.

How many people are actually dipping just to have sex? I can’t help but think that it’s extremely small. It seems most people who really want to have sex will have it anyway. And, clearly, all the misinformation and uneducated Mikvah Ladies haven’t prevented some people from dipping and having sex. So, again, people will have sex if they really want to.

It’s like gun control: it won’t prevent criminals from acquiring guns, but it will prevent law-abiding citizens from defending their lives. Similarly, bad education won’t prevent people who really want to have sex from having it, but it will prevent good halakhic Jews from kissing hugging halakhically. In the end, it’s mostly a question of numbers. Those numbers have changed dramatically from several centuries ago, when ‘shomer negi‘ah’ would not have been an issue.

Adam in the Caribbean said...


I have a couple of points and then I will leave it at that. I see your point, but don't agree with it. After reflection on issues and listening to a couple of shiurim on the topic, I am not sure we can even say holding hands is innoccuous practice as there are women I have been attracted to that I haven't touched and some I have touched via the mechanisms of holding hands, hugging and kissing. It is strange to note that the ones I have touched, even just once, occupy a much great part of my memory than the women I haven't touched. I'm not sure the emotional investment in the end is worth it.

I have no data on the number of women using the mikva for the purposes of coitus outside of marriage, but it was recently viewed as a significant enough problem that Rabbi Metzger recently had to reiterate the injunction. To me, that indicates that it is far more wide spread than we would like to think. Furthermore, I think we have to take into account that many of the Jews in Spain when the Ribash wrote his responsa had become quite secularized, involving themselves with gentile society and practices. This situation is not much different than today.

Nonetheless, I think your point on education is well taken. I support your desire to have a more transparent education system. As stated before, I am not certain that what we consider innocent to be as innocuous as we would hope. The education that you are advocating would also have to include the emotional cost of touching someone with whom one does not in the end marry.

Anonymous said...

Are there any older frum single women who aren't shomer negiah ?

I'd love to meet one !

41 - Frum - Single - Brooklyn