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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 (161)
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 8, 2014
The recent article by Rabbi Manis Friedman, dealing with sexuality,
contains generalizations and assertions that are not supported by the numerous medical, psychological, sociological and/or other scholarly studies of this important subject. I cite for example Rabbi Friedman's insistence that a male and female, who are not married to one another or are not primary members of the same family, should never be in a room alone together with the door closed. 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. Such an assertion is not only unsupported by sufficient scientific and sociological evidence; it also defies logic especially when all the possible age differences of the male and female, who might be in a room together, are considered. This assertion by Rabbi Friedman suggests, moreover, that all human beings are
no more humane in terms of sexuality than are most animals.

I am concerned that Rabbi Friedman's full position on sexuality represents and is indeed the Chabad Lubavitch position. Such a position is not only wrong, in my opinion, but, when emphasized, it almost certainly will "turn-off"- if not antagonize- many Jews (as well as non-Jews) in modern societies.
Norton Mezvinsky
New York City
April 7, 2014
Another masterpiece by Rab Friedman!
Anonymous
January 15, 2014
Thank you, Chabad staff
I thought that that poster was over the top. And you have confirmed it.
Leah
Dallas
January 14, 2014
To Leah
The Torah gives precedence to life, life comes first. According to Jewish law the husband or any man is allowed to touch her in public in such a situation.
Chabad.org Staff
mychabad.org
January 12, 2014
A woman is falling. Her husband is right there.
But he posted on Amazon that SHE called out, Don't catch me~!

She didn't want any man to touch her, not even her husband.

She preferred to be injured. And her husband, too, avoided catching her to prevent her being injured.

That is what he said. He said he had to avoid touching his wife in public, even though she was falling and likely to be injured.

I could not believe that this is Torah-true. It sounds bizarre to me.

What do you say, RAbbi Tzvi?
Leah
Dallas
January 10, 2014
Gossip
Better safe than sorry ... do not make it easy for people to gossip.

I wasn't alive back in the biblical days but Man hasn't much changed - many feel entitled - even when a Woman says "No!"
Meira Shana
San Diego, CA
synagoge-karlsruhe.de
June 10, 2013
nine years of comments? okay fine one more for now
And even a few months of a sprawling debate attesting to the truth that we do not say that a thing will not be heard: it will be heard.

Regarding the age issue: I'm a college student. My parents get nervous when I study with a man (I am too) triple my age.

Interesting twist on the homosexual inclination extension is: if it's not there, does that inform us about the purpose of the law? I read somewhere the sages debated whether a couple should sleep naked together during niddah out of the possibility that nothing would come of it, and decided it was too much. So in this case maybe it is NOT too much, especially considering the alternative of isolation. Not merely wise, the sages were also reasonable!

Sadly, my experience growing more observant has been that yes, yichud is a sexual event, and yes, anyone I explain that to laughs. You avoid the event the same way you'd avoid holding hands or anything of the sort. Don't put yourself on the wrong side of the room relative the door.
Anonymous
pittsburgh
March 14, 2013
Thank you
I would like to say, thank you for putting this into words so beautifully. Though I am secular, I can appreciate traditional or orthodox values about chaste behavior. I do not view it as an oppression of women. I believe if the man is true to his belief and follows it, without ego or self-love, that his behavior is respectful and honorable to the women of his family. A loving gesture of his faith and a loud gesture speaking to all about how crazy in love, he is in, with his wife. His actions becomes oppression when it is about him and not about his faith. Same is true of a woman's behavior, by not allowing another male to touch her she is being respectful to her husband. But it is disrespectful to her husband if she does it, because she is going through the motions. She should understand that this behavior is out of love and respect for her faith and husband. And both men and women should celebrate the joy that this honor and respect can bring to a marriage. With the right mindset.
Anonymous
December 16, 2012
Beautiful
This is a beautiful article. Thank you Rav Friedman!
Lee
New York
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