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Public Displays of Affection?

Public Displays of Affection?


Dear Rachel,

I was just at a friend’s wedding who I haven’t seen since college. She has been living in Israel the last few years and during that time became Orthodox. When we spoke on the phone she told me how happy she was to be getting married and how wonderful she thought her fiancé was, and how much she loved him, but at the wedding, they never held hands and didn’t even kiss at the end of the ceremony. Is this how a couple that is supposedly in love acts?

Omaha, NE

Dear Confused,

If this was your first experience at an Orthodox wedding I can definitely understand your confusion. I imagine there were a number of things that might have seemed strange or not made sense. And the issue of the lack of physical contact is definitely something that is quite different than the traditional “you may now kiss the bride…”

It is important, therefore, to first explain the idea of touch and physicality within Judaism. Touch is something that is intended to be not only loving but also intimate. When a man and woman touch, there is always the potential of a spark, a sexual element. Being that touch is seen as such, there are many laws within Judaism that prohibit the touching between men and women who are not married, unless it is one’s parents or siblings.

But even though a woman and her husband can obviously hold hands, can hug, and can kiss, chances are that you will never see that. For if touch is considered intimate, then it is completely inappropriate for it to be made public. The love between a husband and wife is something that should be felt, not something that should be seen.

The reason your friend didn’t hold her husband’s hand, dance with him, hug him or touch him publicly at all, is because that is an aspect of their relationship that is completely private and reserved for the two of them alone to share. Because it is so special, it is not something out in the open.

We have become so accustomed to seeing physicality brazenly displayed, that when it isn’t done, it may seem bizarre. But if we recognize the intensity and feelings that should accompany any and all touch between the sexes, we would most likely not be so quick to be nonchalant with it. In the US it is customary to shake hands upon meeting someone. In other countries a kiss of the woman’s hand or even a kiss on the cheek is an appropriate greeting.

What a shame when holding hands, let alone a kiss, become meaningless. What then does it take to express true love and feeling? When touch is not part of the equation between those who are not married and is reserved for absolute privacy amongst those who are, then touch retains its power and value and does not become dull or ordinary.

I imagine your friend is extremely happy and in love, just as she told you she was. Although you may not have seen the physical expression of that, it by no means is because it wasn’t there. It just wasn’t there for you, as it is there only for the two of them to share.

I hope that helps clarify what took place and hope that you will share many other joyous occasions with your friend and her new husband.


"Dear Rachel" is a bi-weekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sara Esther Crispe.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Discussion (18)
April 19, 2015
intimate touch
I've read most of the comments and agree with Rabbi Brownstein. I've been married for 18 years now and my husband and I keep our private lives just that - private. I don't go dangling my precious jewels out in public for the general population to dissect and discuss. My intimate life is infinitely more precious to me than any jewels or physical possessions I may have and I treasure it as such. My marriage is stronger for it, not weaker. I can't see myself having the same relationship with my husband if it was a matter of public display.
New York
January 23, 2014
To Bo
Avoiding PDA is neither an act of love toward another nor a display of piety, but simply appropriate and dignified behavior from the Torah perspective. That which is intimate is private, not because it is shameful, but because as soon as it is displayed it is no longer intimate, and is unseemly. We don't keep from the inappropriate because of what it might lead to, but because it is itself to be avoided. In Judaism, privacy is itself a virtue; that which is precious and cherished is not for public display. And we need not look back to hedonism of the past; we learn daily of people who have lost all sense of where lines should be drawn in male/female interactions.
Rabbi Shmary Brownstein
January 11, 2014
Very intersting thoughts
I find your blog very interesting and enlightening. I also felt in somewhat of an agreement to the responded from Los Angeles. It seems that this somewhat ancient law of no touch in public is in a scene a response to the total hedonism of ancient culture. I wonder if in the heart of those that practice this law, is it out of love to the one they do not want to touch publicly or a prideful display of piety? And why would it frustrate you if others can show displays of affection (kissing a cheek, hand shacking, hugging) without lust in there heart. Thanks for the post!
April 30, 2012
Makes me reconsider my PDA
I stumbled upon this article because I needed to find out what was appropriate behavior when out shopping with my "significant other". My background in a particularly "strict" Christian church, is similar to Orthodox Judaism. Because of this and also being in my first romantic relationship, I struggle with physical displays of affection towards my beloved, especially since I do not want to "awaken love until it pleases" as Song of Solomon states.

I want all displays of affection to be meaningful, even if it means less of them. I want them to say, "I love you.", not "I lust after you." I am not saying less is more, but more thought should go behind each gesture.

Thank you so much!
Chicagoland, Illinois
January 19, 2011
Affection in Public
Orthodox Judaism doesn't allow public displays of affection - they believe it should only be done in the privacy of their own home.

Some people think it's "embarrassing and inappropriate" to show affection in public, and get angry at people who don't agree with their feelings.

I personally think it's disgusting to "hang all over people" in public - I even read a story about a couple who did that on a dance floor and the DJ said: "Will the couple in the middle of the dance floor please find a room!" They left and never went back!
Providence, RI
June 9, 2010
Hug in Public
My husband and I have been going through a hard time. A woman friend asked us to do a writing assignment. After that my husband asked if he could hug me. I said no. My woman friend yelled at me in private for not hugging him.

I guess for some reason I just found it Too Personal to hug him in front of her. I think I feel odd about public displays of affection with my husband except taking his arm when walking or dancing in public.

Also, there were private things that needed to be said first and I really needed an apology from him first.

Is it ok for me to not feel right about public displays of affection?

I guess I think our marriage is "our" business in the privacy of our home. Any comments?
Thanks everyone...
Long Beach, CA
October 12, 2008
Re: meanings (Part 2)
Contrary to popular culture, as always, traditional Judaism recognizes the potential power of touch. Think of it, if you would. If you literally never touch a member of the opposite sex in any way, aside from your spouse and immediate family members, how much more powerful and electric will it be when you do something as small as stroke your spouse's hand. I once inadvertently saw such a touch between a newly married Orthodox couple and the intense intimacy of it, shown by the expressions on their faces and the aura around them, made me blush and turn away. It was honestly more intimate than some couples I have seen being far more physical on public park benches.

Just food for thought.
Shoshana Chana
Dallas, TX
October 12, 2008
Re: meanings (Part 1)
Your point illustrates precisely that which Orthodox Judaism addresses. Today, touch between men and women has become normal. Like all things that become common and are done too much with too many people, intergender touch has become something dull. So dull that it is acceptable to do this anytime, anywhere with anyone.

There was a time when there was no such thing. Then shaking hands become acceptable. Then kissing on the cheek, then hugging... I do not think it would be out of line to note that this is an escalating trend and it frightens me to think of where it could lead, as people now openly talk of "swinger parties" and I have heard on too many occasions that "kissing/making out isn't really cheating."
Shoshana Chana
Dallas, TX
January 23, 2008
April: 'most liberal religions...'
I don't know about all religions, but in Christian weddings it's not common to say 'you may now kiss the bride'. I've been married twice in church, 1957 and 2002, and this was never said. It's said at civil ceremonies where no religion at all is involved!

Of course, I don't know what happens in other countries - USA for instance. I'm talking about England.

Shaking hands is a long-established English custom, but it wasn't used by women until the early 19th century - a bow was sufficient when greeting friends. We shake hands to show open-ness and trust between e.g. friends or business colleagues.
April 23, 2007
Just give a shot!
MR California...(from the "meanings" opinion), not talking about religious things, because I respect and do what G-d tells us to do even thought it doesnt have too much "human sense". But talking with "humans" logic, we can understand that touching is somehitng that needs confidence. Shaking hands its a little but common "quantity" of confidence, but as we know confidence in normal conditions grows and not the oposite, and because of that you can see how do friends touch between them in several non-kosher places with "no problem", but that is not the highest level of confidence, i hope you understand wich one is, using your "human logic" of cousre. There is a saying in spanish that says: "la confianza trae asco", witch means thath confidence becomes at the end of the road on discousting. I want to apologize for my bad english writing, as you can see i'm an latin american guy so english is not my first language. I hope that you and all of the readers could understand my point.
Venezuelan Jew
caracas, venezuela