Religion & Beliefs

Can’t Touch This

As any number of my ex-boyfriends can attest, I am not shomer negiah. At all. I do have a huge personal space bubble and I don’t like to be hugged by strangers, but I’m all for kissing boys (or girls, … Read More

By / February 1, 2007

As any number of my ex-boyfriends can attest, I am not shomer negiah. At all. I do have a huge personal space bubble and I don’t like to be hugged by strangers, but I’m all for kissing boys (or girls, if that’s your thing). It’s not that I don’t see the value in the concept behind shomer negiah, because I certainly do. I am familiar with the electric chemistry you can get if you just brush up against Mr. Right Now. And I imagine it would be that times a thousand if you waited until you got married for the first moment of contact. But here’s the rub (sorry, that was awful, I know): If I’m going to live as modern girl, if I’m going to be a grad student, and have a job, and hang out with my friends, I’m going to have an extraordinarily hard time keeping up the no touch rule. Forget shaking hands—today’s world is all about contact. And even if I’m only looking to date observant guys, it would be a pretty hard to keep up any kind of long term relationship without at least some hand holding or tickling or kissing. I’ve gone out with shomer negiah guys before, and they were pretty strict about it…except when we were making out. One of my friends was shomer negiah except when she was sleeping with her non-Jewish boyfriend. I know at least one gay man who’s very strict about shomer negiah, which seems completely ridiculous to me. Despite how innately difficult and frustrating the shomer negiah lifestyle has got to be, I’ve been hearing more and more about it in the past couple of year. When I lived in Iowa we had a Shabbaton lead by Gila Manolson, who wrote The Magic Touch, a book about how important it is to be shomer negiah. Her argument is basically that if you touch some guy it’s a slippery slope to the point when you’ll be sleeping with him, and then when years later you marry some other guy, the sex won’t be as good because you’ll be thinking about the first guy. When she presented this material at the Hillel in Iowa City, I assumed all the sorority sisters would roll their eyes and start a gossip-fest in the back row. But as a matter of fact, the sorority sisters, and even some of the guys in attendance were all for it. For about a week, being shomer negiah was totally hot in Iowa City. That blew over pretty quickly, though. And that’s my point. Shomer negiah is an awesome idea that’s incredibly hard to sustain, especially if you aren’t living in a super religious community where everyone else is doing it too (and even if you are living in that community, there’s plenty of people who aren’t so serious about it, see Men in Tamar’s past #1,4,7, and 12). Instead of advocating a completely hands off approach, I wish Jewish educators were focusing more on how to build strong relationships. Because God knows my friends and I are all in need of that. It’s the same reason abstinence education makes me roll my eyes. Instead of telling people not to have sex when you know they will, how about teaching them how to communicate with their partners, and practice safe sex? I always thought shomer negiah was a purely Jewish thing, but it turns out the Baptists are equally opposed to a touching of any kind. The Christian equivalent to The Magic Touch is called I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and I know because I was at a book burning party recently, and two different girls brought their copies. That’s right, when you tell girls they shouldn’t even touch the men in their lives, they throw you in the fire. Literally. Does it get any louder and clearer than that?