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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 (198)
February 27, 2015
To Anonymous (Feb 2)
Discipline is not equated with having died a little bit. Discipline is not about killing your natural instincts, but about controlling them. Safety is not playing with fire. It is not to play with fire in a supposedly "safe way." If there is a safe way to play with fire, then something's wrong either with the fire or with the world around it. There are times when we need to use fire, and that is when we lay down regulations for using it so that we can benefit from it without getting burned. The same applies to sexuality. It is and should be potent. If it is not, something's wrong. This does not mean that every time a man and woman are together in a situation they will think of committing lewd acts. But the Torah recognizes the potential for such a situation to turn inappropriate very quickly (even without getting physical), and therefore prescribes clear guidelines for making sure it does not. Looking at what goes on around us today, we can readily see the wisdom in this.
Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
For Chabad.org
February 2, 2015
Moreover, what about homosexuality? It exists. So what, if two men are in a room alone, they should consider that a sexual event also? Or incest. If family members are alone, should that be considered incest? Enough is enough, this logic is insane.
Anonymous
February 2, 2015
I like how this article equates discipline or not running after every girl you see with having "died a little bit." In other words, if I'm in a room alone with a female I'm attracted to and I don't try to rape or have sex with her, I've "died a little bit." If I don't develop feelings for every girl I'm friends with, I've "died a little bit." But if that's true, then if I don't want to eat a particular food, does that mean I'm not hungry? Or if I don't want to drink a particular drink, does that mean I'm not thirsty? No. So in the same way, just because I don't develop feelings for every girl I know does not mean I am dead inside; it just means that I find some girls more attractive than others, and that's all there is to it.
Anonymous
January 20, 2015
scriptural reference
please find the reference within The Torah or let us know how you have arrived to this conclusion.
Margarita
January 16, 2015
re: Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
Yes humans should control themselves. But there needs to be balance in everything. Just because you're controlling yourself does not mean that you need to take things to this extent. You stated that sexuality begins long before the actual event/action occurs. That thinking has merit, but you can't assume that every time someone is in a situation which could be sexual means they are engaged in something sexual. So every time someone is near a basketball court, you'll assume they are a basketball player? No. Every time you go to Walmart, I should assume you're buying pork? No. Yes there should be some safeguards if you're not cool with certain things, but there's no need to take things to extremes.
Anonymous
January 13, 2015
who arranges marriages?
At one point in time, the popular custom was to have marriages arranged. The rules between men and women where set and followed, especially regarding the segregation between the sexes. Today, these rules are changing and getting "relaxed". (Even within Judaism, their is no uniformity in the understanding and application of many of the rules). It is nice to have a kind of life insurance. That is, you know you have a secure marriage arranged for you. But the other side of the argument emphasizes the problem of "love". That is, what if the 2 people arranged to be married fail to love each other? Anyway my main point, it is not clear as to who arranges marriages, both today, and in the past, or more older customs. Is it parents? the people who marry the couple? is it the husband? the wife? perhaps a combination of all these people? Is it even a choice? (seeing that one person's choice alone does not determine a marriage. (Their needs to be consent...of other people involved.
john
January 12, 2015
only in God we trust. Amen.
i found the answer. God says only trust in Him. Not your parents , not yourself ,nobody , only in God we trust. Amen. Therefore ,we listen to God only and nothing is restrictive anymore only protective for our sakes. amen.
mark alcock
Ballito
January 12, 2015
There is a time and place for everything....
Even a time when crossing borders is imperative. Such as, saving a life, offering help in need, common manners. Sometimes, in seeking to prevent over-sexualizing, exactly that occurs. I believe that these prohibitions can be taken too much to the extreme. To me, this is one area of the Holy Scriptures that needs to be taken with a grain of salt, so to speak. After all, we were ordered to stone people to death in the bible, and we do NOT do that any more nowadays.
KarenJoyceChayaFradleKleinmanBell
Riverside, CA USA
January 10, 2015
the story of adam and eve, living in a paradise, created for each other, naked with each other without shame. Sounds great, but the tale and life are not the same thing. In civilization, their is a plurality of very different customs and beliefs about sex. Judaism stresses the issue of nakedness and un-kosher kinds of sexuality. It is a great mystery....How sex can be harmful, but also a great source of good. How it could be a thing of paradise, yet also of sin. Another mystery: why their are rich and poor people, people who are without mates, and people with mates.
john
January 5, 2015
Re: Big Macs
Humans can and must control themselves. The way we do this is by creating frameworks that will prevent the wrong kinds of situations. Rabbi Friedman broadens the definition of sexuality beyond what our society understands as sexual, and points out that sexuality (appropriate and inappropriate) begins well before any activity. At a time when legislatures and college campuses are trying to hammer out where the line of appropriateness is in the context of student interactions, we can see the wisdom of the Torah's clarity on the issue. A Jew who makes sure never to be alone with an unrelated person of the opposite gender is guaranteed to avoid most of the gray situations in which the line is crossed.
Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
For Chabad.org
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