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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.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Discussion (177)
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
April 19, 2014
I have re-read Rabbi Friedman's article, and I have also read Rabbi Freeman's comment.

Both of them agree. It is not about what WILL happen. NOTHING needs to "happen". The rule is that being in a room alone together is ITSELF a form of intimacy.

Rabbi Friedman says that we have made it a habit to wall off our feelings instead of our bodies. Thus, we feel OK being in a room together with the door closed, because we have a "closed door" in our minds.

Rabbi Friedman says that we have muffled our sexuality by creating this closed door in our minds. He says our minds and bodies should be sexually open so that when we ARE alone with our mate, we will become fully aroused, not tamped down.

But in order to achieve this, we need to avoid being in a room with the door closed. Being together in such a room requires tamping down our emotions, contrary to our goal of being fully alive sexually.
Chaim
Indianapolis
April 14, 2014
This is an additional comment in answer to Rabbi Friedman: I understand that not only Chabad Lubavitch but other Chassidic groupings as well prohibit all physical contact between men and women with the exceptions of husband and wife and close primary relatives. This includes all handshakes for any purposes. This, I further understand, is part of what is called "Negiah".in Orthodox Judaism and is based upon biblical references (which are not clear) and a host of varying and contradictory, traditional interpretations. There is no question that this prohibition is a Chabad Lubavitch position. Numerous traditional or Orthodox authorities, who are not Chassidic, are far less stringent, e.g. they do allow handshakes between men and women under certain circumstances. I believe the Friedman "room with a closed door theory" is most probably also Chabad Lubavitch doctrine. These ideas, which are illogical and unsupportable in terms of humane sexuality evidence, should be rejected.
Norton Mezvinsky
New York City
April 14, 2014
closed door
Goodness! Rules made before we had books, movies, TV, not to mention the internet, and all there is to enjoy in life besides sex.
Also, maybe just skirts the all too usual male sexual paranoia.

PS: it is totally possibe/plausible for a man and woman to be 'just friends'.
Anonymous
michigan
April 13, 2014
I appreciate the fact that Rabbi Friedman has responded to my comment, but I think that his article clearly demonstrates his opposition to a man and a woman, who are not married or not primary relatives, being in a room alone together with a closed door. He bases this on his view of sexuality. He also clearly wrote that in his view any and all physical contact between a man and a woman is intimate.

In my previous comment I stated that no evidence for these assertions about sexuality can be found in serious and scholarly studies and analyses of sexuality. I again ask Rabbi Friedman to produce medical, psychological and/or sociological evidence from reliable studies in these fields that support his assertions and generalizations. Instead of doing so, Rabbi Friedman has asked that I cite studies that show he is wrong. Rabbi Friedman, these are your assertions; I doubt that evidence exists and have asked for you to prove what you assert. You have the burden of proof here.
Norton Mezvinsky
New York City
April 13, 2014
For Norton
Thank you for spelling out your concerns.

My reading of Rabbi Friedman's essay is quite different than yours. The second line of the first paragraph of his response says it clearly: "Not because of what is going to happen, but what has already happened."

So your statement, "This is because, according to Rabbi Friedman, sexual attraction between the two could and probably would occur and lead to their having "illicit" sexual relations" really does not apply here.

Rabbi Friedman's statement has support in halacha. Once the ring is given, marriage is effected simply by the couple being alone in a room together—even if they just say, "hello."

Concerning support from psychological studies, I would like to see some citations to support your view.

Is Rabbi Friedman's view the "Chabad Lubavitch position?" From my experience, Chabad—being a Jewish group—is far from monolithic and contains far more diversity of opinion than it does members.
Tzvi Freeman
April 11, 2014
When the Rabbi wrote the following, I had agree:

"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?"

I am a senior citizen and have observed a lot of life, around me. I have seen cheaters, come and go, by the dozens, all ages.

Seems like all men or women, who are already cheating on their spouses, or have the target woman or man, set-up to tempt them to cheat with them; try to dodge accusations of cheating on their spouses and do so, with the same, or very similar wording, as above.

With as loose and non-existent morals and depraved character glitches, as people in society seem to have these days, I think maybe Rabbi has pointed-up exactly the way to separate the sexes everywhere else, saving for those legally married, when in their own homes. Being Torah Observant in this, would cut way down on a lot of cheating going-down!
Anonymous
April 11, 2014
Anyone that truly believes that a man and woman in one room with the door closed is a sexual even needs to get his mind out of the gutter.
Bob Mark
April 11, 2014
What does Torah actually forbid?
I challenge you to find anywhere in Torah that a man and a woman cannot be in a room with a closed door. Talmud, yes, but that is an interpretation of Torah.
Paul Westerink
Outback Australia
April 10, 2014
Unity formed
What is mans desire other then doing what the Creator asked them to do. The animals all know their purpose and do with impunity. This inherit desire to procreate in man includes rewards such as bonding, children and desire satisfaction. With out this reward man would not procreate.
The difference is animals have to do it, as man has a choice. This choice is judgment with levels of sacrifice of the desire in who they follow. The lower (animal) or the higher (man).
Using today's social construction, a man or woman that follows Torah understand that sacrifices are to be made. It is tuff, as the Creator made man and woman with beauty. As this creates a matter of judgment, when they choose to hide (deceives) this desire that rages within. This can lead to action of the desire when judgment fails.
As we some times say, blessed are we of the creation that surrounds us. That bringing in the Torah, at that moment, brings the choice that is to be made. At that moment when a man and woman meet, where ever they are, the desire grows strong for attraction as this is the purpose of uniting the souls and becoming one.
Zak
San Diego
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