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Why Is Torah Law So Restrictive of Contact Between the Genders?

Why Is Torah Law So Restrictive of Contact Between the Genders?

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Question:

I understand that Torah law forbids all physical contact between a man and a woman—or even for them to be alone in a room together—unless they are first-degree relatives or married to each other. This applies to any man and any woman, regardless of their ages or whether or not they are sexually attracted to each other. And then there are all those rules about “modest” dress. Isn’t that carrying it a bit far? Are we really such animals?

Answer:

When a man and woman are together in a room, and the door closes, that is a sexual event. Not because of what is going to happen, but what has already happened. It may not be something to make novels of, but it is a sexual occurrence, because male and female is what sexuality used to be all about.

It is true that in our world today, in the “free world” certainly, people have, on the whole, stopped thinking in these terms. What happened was that we started putting up all these defenses, getting steeled, inured, against the constant exposure and stimulation of men and women sharing all sorts of activities—coeducational school, camps, gyms—is that we started blocking out groups of people. We can’t be as naturally sexual as G‑d created us to be. When a man says, “I have a woman friend, but we’re just friends, nothing more, I’m not attracted to her in any sexual way, she’s not my type,” you’ve got to ask yourself what is really going on here. Is this a disciplined person? Or is this a person who has died a little bit?

What does he mean, “She’s not my type?” When did all this “typing” come into existence? It’s all artificial. It’s not true to human sexuality. And it really isn’t even true in this particular context, because given a slight change of circumstance, you could very easily be attracted. After all, you are a male, she’s a female. How many times does a relationship begin that is casual, neighborly, and then suddenly becomes intimate? The great awakening of this boy and girl who are running around, doing all sorts of things, sharing all sorts of activities, and lo and behold, they realize—what drama, what drama—that they are attracted to each other. These are grownups, intelligent human beings, and it caught them by surprise. It’s kind of silly.

So, closing a door should be recognized as a sexual event. And you need to ask yourself: Are you prepared for this? Is it permissible? Is it proper? If not, leave the door open. Should men and women shake hands? Should it be seen as an intimate gesture? Should any physical contact that is friendly be considered intimate? Hopefully, it should.

These laws are not guarantees against sin. They have never completely prevented it. There are people who dress very modestly. They cover everything. They sin. It’s a little more cumbersome, but they manage. All these laws are not just there to lessen the possibility of someone doing something wrong. They also preserve sexuality—because human sexuality is what G‑d wants. He gave us these laws to preserve it, to enhance it—and make sure it’s focused to the right places and circumstances—not to stifle it.

We have become callous about our sexuality. Even in marriage, a kiss on the run cheapens it, makes it callous—then we run to the therapist for advice. And do you know what the therapist who charges $200 an hour for his advice says? He tells the couple not to touch each other for two weeks. Judaism tells you that, free of charge. Yes, there are two weeks each month during which a husband and wife don’t touch. This therapy has been around for 3000 years. And it still works. It’s a wonderful idea.

When you don’t close the door on yourself and that other person, you are recognizing your own sexuality. You are acknowledging the sexuality of the other person. Being modest, recognizing our borders, knowing where intimacy begins and not waiting until it is so intimate that we’re too far gone, is a very healthy way of living. It doesn’t change your lifestyle dramatically, but enhances it dramatically, and you come away more capable of relaxing, better able to be spontaneous, because you know that you can trust yourself. You’ve defined your borders. Now you can be free. It takes a load off your mind, and it makes you a much more lovable person.

Excerpted from an article by Rabbi Manis Friedman.
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Discussion (187)
June 25, 2014
To Bob
The difference between humans & animals includes the ability to train ourselves to repress our sexuality.

It's not good to repress our sexuality. We WANT it to come "roaring forth" when we're alone with our spouse.

But if we're used to being alone in a room with a member of the opposite sex, and feel no sexual awareness, then we are so habitually repressed that we don't even know what we are missing. The passion in our marriage is not a roar. Our marital sex is just routine.

Take another example. Everything in the supermarket is loaded with salt, sugar, & fat. If the label says, "fat free" it has extra salt & sugar. We are so used to this that w/o this stuff the food seems tasteless. Our tongues are overloaded & jaded.

But I've had none of this stuff for 5 years. I can taste the sweetness of almond butter. I can taste the sweetness of fresh fruit. It's SO sweet! You have no idea!

By avoiding the hype, I became sensitized to the real thing.

So can you.
Brent
Albuquerque
May 1, 2014
point of reference
There is a question asked a few times - where is the point of reference to this kind of rule in The Torah (not later on rabbinical laws)? Can someone actually answer it or admit to nonexistence of such?
Margarita
April 29, 2014
Totally absurd. If all a man can think about when he is in contact with a woman or speaks to her directly is sex then he needs to get a life. According to your feelings every time a cashier sees a woman in his lane at the supermarket his first thought is to take her to bed. You need to get a life.
Bob mark
NJ
April 28, 2014
I GIVE UP !
For Rebecca
Do you run out of an elevator when you are on the way to the 40th floor if a single man walks in? Perhaps out of fear that your full sexuality would inhibit you from making it to the top without wanting, and I quote "(y)our full sexuality to come roaring forth"? Not able to contain yourself?
Is our true relationship with Elohim one of full sexuality?

No better than Islam say I. Maybe the concept of a Burkha is good. It keeps all the full sexuality out of the picture.

I truly do give up! If you cannot contain your sexuality, what assurances do we have that the 'FULL roar' (animalistic, by the way) of your sexuality is not being hidden in your heart while you are in a room full of folks?

While I agree that constant supervision of our emotions is good, we are filled with desire. Food. Shelter. Clothing. Maybe I should not EVER set foot in a truly lovely home because then I could be suspect of violating the torah in coveting.
I leave you all to your unbridled lusts.
Leheet
Richard
Vancouver Island Canada
April 28, 2014
Rebecca,

I am neither repressing my sexuality nor closing my sexual impulses when I am alone with a woman in a closed room and do not necessarily feel excited or have desire for sexual relations. I certainly believe that the same is true for most men. I challenge you or anyone else who thinks otherwise to produce evidence in support of your position from serious studies of sexuality.

There is a difference here between human beings and animals. To allege otherwise is absurd.

Norton
Norton Mezvinsky
New York City
April 27, 2014
To Norton and others who claim we are "not animals" and "above" inappropriate sexual desires
The rabbi said that when we sit in the same room with a person of the opposite gender from ourselves, and FAIL to feel excitement or desire, that is because we have, in the name of "civilization" or "not being like animals" or, for whatever reason, we have repressed our own sexuality in order to be able to sit in a closed room with that person.

We have "closed" off part of our own sexuality.

But our sexuality is GOOD. It should not be "closed" for any reason. When we are alone with a permitted partner (our spouse) we should WANT our FULL sexuality to come roaring forth to the fullest joy and pleasure and spiritual devotion.

Thus we should avoid situations that would require us to get into the habit of "closing" our sexual impulses.

THAT is why we should avoid being alone with anyone other than our spouse.
Rebecca
April 23, 2014
A possible resolution to my own question
I have been thinking (instead of studying for finals that might make the difference between academic success and failure -- a self application will follow in a moment) about how such a course of action might prove rational. Then I remembered a few things that put it into perspective again. Interestingly, I alluded to them with my choice of words, but this wasn't deliberate at all.

1. This "complete distancing" -- to the extent of looking for situations where a connotation might start to exist, and creating them and forbidding them -- does not apply to all Jewish values, but rather seems to only apply to those which are seen as "immutable even in the face of death" -- specifically, c''v from these things: murder, idolatry, adultery, embarassing another person, and speaking a destructive word about someone, what am I missing?

2. Firm-ifying what should be mutable is generally frowned upon e.g. oaths, asceticism, what am I missing?

Does this seem right?
Jeremy McCandlish
Pittsburgh, PA
April 23, 2014
molding the heart (for norton)
Norton,

We do not inherently dislike the sight of an empty ootheca in a home. But when we learn its significance for that home, we learn to be bothered.

An act can create and destroy even potentialities that never become manifest, and for a person who has given an act forethought (i.e. anyone who asks the question), those potentialities give every individual instance of the act a new connotation. Performing or avoiding the act affects our perception of the connoted realities, too.

It seems to me that in the Orthodox way of life, we want to take all opportunities to create ratzon-al ("emotional") distance from things we know are wrong, and a closeness to things we know are right. This we can infuse the values we know we want to care about into our hearts -- more so than one who only feels an act's actualized consequences.

(Interestingly, the above end goal, which I have ACCEPTED as a way of life, seems to be directly at odds with being rational. Would a Rabbi please fix this?)
Jeremy McCandlish
Pittsburgh, PA
April 21, 2014
Dear Tzvi,

I acknowledge I previously assumed that you were writing for Rabbi Friedman in your response to me. I now accept that you were not doing so. I nevertheless did respond substantially to your response.
To reiterate, Rabbi Friedman has the burden of proof here, since he made specific allegations about contact between male and female within the context of sexuality. I have questioned, indeed denied, that scholarly studies of sexuality support his allegations, especially about the closed door.; I have asked Rabbi Friedman to cite supporting evidence from sexuality studies. .References to vague biblical passages and diverse interpretations thereof do not suffice here.
I suggest that Rabbi Friedman has correctly presented the Chabad view in his article(s) dealing with his view of sexuality?
Finally, to reiterate again, Rabbi Friedman's specific allegation about the closed door is from many perspectives so illogical that it borders the absurd.
Norton Mezvinsky
New York City
April 20, 2014
For Norton again
Norton, I would respond to your further comments if I knew that you were reading the response. I think it was quite clear that I was not responding in the name of Rabbi Friedman, and you didn't even notice that. Neither have you addressed any point that I made.

So what _did_ you read? Is there any possibility for dialog here at all?
Tzvi Freeman
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