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.