For Unmarried Jewish Couples, No Touching Allowed

For Unmarried Jewish Couples, No Touching Allowed

What if you could never touch your boyfriend? What if you could never kiss him, hug him or dance with him? Not even give him a handshake. Sex? Fuhgettaboutit.

For many Orthodox Jews, the concept of not touching—known in Hebrew as Shomer Negiah, literally translated as "observant of the laws of touching"—is nothing new. The idea behind Shomer Negiah is that sex should be kept as something special that happens between a husband and a wife. Sex outside of marriage is a no-no. Anything that could possibly lead to sex outside of marriage is also a no-no. Think of it as an attempt to avoid any possible slippery slopes. No pun intended.

Orthodox Jews have varying views about how far the rules of not touching should go. Some Jews won't even take a seat on the subway next to someone of the opposite gender. Others will go as far as having oral sex, while still avoiding the "home run."

Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with non-sexual contact, including hugging or dancing. Yet, when it comes to all that other stuff, I like to think I'm "selectively Shomer Negiah," which means I get a little more lax if the guy I'm with is really cute, but I definitely won't go "all the way," no matter how much I want to.

Depending on level of observance, when it comes to dating the rules of Shomer Negiah are either implicitly enforced or called into question. I've been on a first date where a less observant guy asked me if I was Shomer Negiah and wondered how "far" I was willing to go before marriage. Pretty rude, dude. Essentially, it's the Orthodox Jewish equivalent of being asked if I give blowjobs regularly. But shitty first dates comes with the territory when you're a single gal living in NYC.

For couples who do choose to be Shomer Negiah before they marry, the choice is often easier said than done. For most people, being physical is an expression of how you feel. Not being able to express that can be somewhat frustrating, which is why I can't claim to follow the rules as carefully as I probably should.

Shomer Negiah is the reason why most Orthodox Jewish engagements are so short in comparison to the "secular" world. Couples normally date for less than six months before they get engaged, and the wedding is usually planned in less than six months from then. Couples who are not able to touch before they stand under the Chuppah—the Jewish wedding canopy under which the ceremony is held—yearn to be together in ways that other couples cannot understand.

But a little yearning isn’t such a bad thing. Not being physical with your partner in the early stages of dating is a way to ensure that you first connect emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Shomer Negiah helps you make sure you aren't confusing lust with love. And refraining from touch can also makes that first handhold that much more exciting. Maybe you should try working Shomer Negiah into your own love life, if it’s not too hard.