Monday through Thursday I surround myself with girls who openly share their dating stories, with all the details. We all laugh and go on about our business. When Shabbat comes along, all the details stay hushed and I find myself around a different group of girls, some who may not even have stories to share. These girls are what are called shomer negiah which means that they have decided to not touch those of the opposite gender until marriage. And quite frankly, I'm not sure whether to admire them or check their sanity levels.
Shomer negiah defies all of the societal changes that have become the normThis is me living a life between two worlds. As fun as it is to date and share stories with girlfriends, I happen to see so much of the wisdom in the laws of Jewish modesty, specifically shomer negiah. And although I have taken on many of the customs in Judaism I otherwise thought I never could, i.e. keeping shabbat Friday nights and giving up eel sushi, I don't see how it is humanly possibly to not touch boys anymore!
For a brief moment in time, I tried dating guys who are shomer negiah and so therefore, involuntarily, I was too. But when people ask me how I'd feel about the concept of not touching men, I can't help but laugh. It depends on the day. And whatever I could tell you now about how I feel will probably change by the time you actually read this. So I want to say this instead. That even though some of us, self included, may not be strong enough, or understand enough, on why it is important to keep the laws of shomer negiah, there are many lessons to be learned from its wisdom.
Shomer negiah defies all of the societal changes that have become the norm and have jaded us – divorce in every other home, affairs as after-work activities, teen pregnancies and full-blown nudity on television just to name a few. When seeing that there is this whole other option out there – to only touch, and think about, the person you are committed to – it takes us many steps backwards from the "norm" which I've just described and instead can bring us to an individualized place that feels comfortable for us.
Really, how often do we make decisions based on what is right for us versus what is "normal," what is expected? How often do our needs get mixed in with what we feel we're supposed to do, with what society says we should be doing? So much of our lives are ruled by the speed dating structure in our fast-paced world. Shomer negiah tells us it's okay to slow down.
As restricting as not touching sounds, it's pretty restricting to have standards put on us as wellLearning about shomer negiah has not given me the side effect of turning into a nun, but surprisingly, quite the opposite. I have spent more time reflecting on, and appreciating, myself. Maybe my body wasn't created for that cute guy at the bar after all. Sharing desires, and all your intimacy, with the one person who is sharing his only with you may just be the most powerful thing of all.
And although I've admitted I cannot fully commit to shomer negiah, I now have this complete perspective on what my choices are. It's like an awakening that as restricting as not touching sounds, it's pretty restricting to have standards put on us as well. Shomer negiah, despite its restrictions, is in fact empowering to now have new options in making our own decisions. It can be a huge relief.
In an upcoming film on shomer negiah, this guy talked about his regretful one-night-stand. And when he said, "Everyone you touch becomes a part of you," I got goosebumps. The message hasn't left my mind since. Everyone you touch becomes a part of you – a part of your history, of your memories, of your physical being, of your life, of your heart. And from this one line I get now that touch is stronger than we are taught, and more precious than perceived. When we come to realize we live in a sterile world regarding intimacy and sexuality, it's okay to step back and think twice about who we let become a part of us. And what stories we will share Monday through Thursday.