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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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Michael Mann Toronto, Canada October 11, 2016

There is wisdom in what you say -- human sexuality is what God wants -- but at the root of traditional relations between men and women is men's fear of women. Judaism -- and other traditional cultures -- must come to grips with this. The discussion may go on for a thousand years with tradition intact so that the whole cloth of halachah does not unravel, but the discussion must begin and Yiddishkeit must work toward another approach to women.
In fact, it has, with the creation of to'anot, as an example. As long as we approach the subject honestly there is hope but I do not think the essay above does so entirely. Apologetics are not an answer.
I am a Jewish male with deep respect for traditional Yiddishkeit. I want to make sure it survives for at least another thousand years. Reply

Carolina Diaz Bogotá, Colombia October 10, 2016

Gorgeous extract...Heavenly wisdom Without words...This article touched me in the deepest part of my soul and I realized how many mistakes I committed because of my careless way to manage myself in those situations...even in "little details" which triggered discussions and problems with people because they "misunderstood" my careless attitudes about sexuality in its further meaning...So,everything exposed in this article is true and a proof of G-d's love through His cares translated in commandments written in The Torah.

Thanks for everything and Shalom from Colombia...G-d bless this website and each person involved in spreading The Light of The Torah over the world... Reply

Anonymous UK May 4, 2016

Restricting Contact Between the Genders. I am both shocked and saddened by the lack of restraint in the world of today. Often, sexual activity is the common currency of society and the special quality of an exclusive, loving relationship is lost Furthermore, the resultant babies are deprived of the right to be in an established family with two parents and other relatives; a sense of belonging in an existing social structure. When there are
children born of several different fathers, or when there is uncertainty of who is the father, there is definite risk of incest occurring. Really, without the traditional safeguards, things can degenerate into general chaos which engenders much unhappiness and benefits nobody. 'Having sex' does not equate with the carefully guarded enjoyment of this blessing in its proper setting, and the
so-called freedom of no restraints actually deprives its adherents of enjoying this aspect of life to the full. Reply

Sarah Masha West Bloomfield via baischabad.com May 19, 2015

Meira Shana Okay let's make that list you want. Most of what you describe is horrid and neither Torah nor rabbis condone those behaviors.
As to dirtiness and baths, I suggest you search for an article written by Levi Welton about mikvah. Reply

Msrgarita May 9, 2015

sometimes things don't add up I have looked into to find the answer and the only answer so far "this is custom". If this is something that is hindering people of making living while excusing dreadful behavior of cheating and rape, maybe this is not the right custom.

There is comparison with the fire, I like that. In the cold day we used to have an open fireplace, which gave us warmth and we knew not to jump in the fire. Boundaries are great.

Personally I have nothing against arrenge marriages, however it sadness me to think how often the word happily missing from married for number of years.

And lastly, I know of a lady who was sitting shiva and her rebe couldn't visit and comfort her because she was by herself a lot. She needed thim more than ever! Now the whole family including her grandchildren are looking for a place where in the time of grief people are treated with dignity.

There are written laws, but human made laws need to be at least open for discussion. Reply

Hanna Athens,Greece May 6, 2015

Be receptive to Torah's message. Let's open our hearts and absorb the Torah's teachings. After all it is God's word. Let us read with our eyes and listen with our souls. And let our lives be transformed to what God intended them to be. Reply

Elizabeth Newark May 4, 2015

Do you know any wedded couples who live this way? They have great freedom & passion The man and woman behave modestly with each other until they are alone. Then their desire is explosive. They receive, and achieve, a much more powerful experience. They are free to be fully themselves together. Their tender passionate lovemaking lasts and the final pleasure is intense.

The woman, incidentally, wears something over her hair all the time, except when she and her husband are alone. Then, and only then, he gets to see her full beauty (and to him she remains beautiful through the years)--including her beautiful natural hair which neither he nor anyone else sees otherwise.

Casual touching dilutes this intensity.

Do you see "love" as the infatuation of initial attraction, ending after a very few years?

But these couples are kind & respectful to each other; their sex is sacred, not taken for granted. They treasure each other at all times. With most people, familiarity breeds contempt.

These couples avoid excessive familiarity. Their love remains fresh forever. Reply

Meira Shana San Diego via synagoge-karlsruhe.de May 3, 2015

"what G-d wants" ... did G-d want women to be chattel, too.

Does G-d really want Men Only to get as many women as possible - and for women to be deemed vengeful if she refuses to give a lousy husband and father a get.

Does G-d say that Men should bathe properly or be considered unclean or is that only for Women.

Does G-d say it's ok for Men to mistreat Women?

Let's make a list of all the rights given to Men by G-d - and another list of all the rights given to Women by G-d. Reply

George Hollywood CA May 2, 2015

I love this I love this article. Full of wisdom and intelligence. Reply

Reb Harry Miami March 18, 2015

Arranged marriage and love An arranged marriage is much like when a person first commits to studying Torah and worshipping Hashem. As time grows commitment turns to love, just as two who marry and commit later learn to love each other. Love is not lust, for lust is all about yourself and what you want. Love is about doing for the other person. My marriage was arranged, and we are still married 22 years later. Reply

anonymous March 17, 2015

I did not say that discipline is having died a little bit. I said the article equates the discipline (or disinterest) of the guy who wasn't interested or didn't make moves on his female friend with having died a little bit. It's right there in the second paragraph of his response.

Yes, I agree that safety is not playing with fire(if you're not cool with certain things, which is what I said). But where we disagree is that I say that your regulations are too strict and unreasonable. Restricting your life to the extreme like this is, to me, is not worth the cost of protecting yourself from a situation which could potentially lead to actions you don't like. Muslim countries restrict women from showing even their hair in public. Is this infrigement of freedom worth the cost of reducing the risk of premarital sex which some people are not okay with? I say not, but apparently, you are very willing to sacrifice too much of your freedom for security. Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein For Chabad.org 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. Reply

Anonymous 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. Reply

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. Reply

Margarita January 20, 2015

scriptural reference please find the reference within The Torah or let us know how you have arrived to this conclusion. Reply

Anonymous 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. Reply

john 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. Reply

mark alcock Ballito 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. Reply

KarenJoyceChayaFradleKleinmanBell Riverside, CA USA 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. Reply

john 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. Reply