Religion & Beliefs

What Not To Ask Jews in Public

I was recently at a Shabbat meal with a bunch of people from a mix of backgrounds, everywhere from pretty frum, to ‘not particularly interested in Judaism Jews.’ It was a really nice meal, marred only by a slightly awkward … Read More

By / July 9, 2007

I was recently at a Shabbat meal with a bunch of people from a mix of backgrounds, everywhere from pretty frum, to ‘not particularly interested in Judaism Jews.’ It was a really nice meal, marred only by a slightly awkward moment when a member of the latter group said, “So, are any of you guys shomer negiah?” The question was followed by a long uncomfortable pause as half of the members of the discussion considered hiding under the table. On the one hand, this question doesn’t bother me that much. I mean, I am actively not shomer negiah. I enjoy men almost as much as I enjoy Torah. I think tongue kissing is one of the greatest uses of free time, and I have yet to find a way to kiss a boy without touching him. On the other hand, depending on what company you’re in, saying, “I’m WAY not shomer negiah,” is equivalent to saying, “I’m a ho.” And even if you’re not concerned about the other people present judging you, there’s a possibility that they could extrapolate something from the fact that you are shomer negiah that might be misleading. You might, for instance, be a baal teshuva who’s taking on mitzvot slowly, and though you’ve taken on shomer negiah, you’re not yet fully Shabbat observant. If someone who heard you say you’re shomer negiah then saw you get in a car on Shabbat they might figure you were lying, and your credibility would be damaged. You also might not want to advertise the fact that you’ve sworn off sex. These things can be personal. My point is basically that there are some questions that you should probably not ask other Jews in public settings. It’s like asking someone’s salary, or what they got on their SATs. I’ve actually heard some rabbis say that asking anyone a public question about their observance is verboten, and I’m kind of on board with that. But here are some definitely touchy questions to stay away from: Are you shomer negiah? Duh.

Are you shomer Shabbat? This is a problem because it could end badly, and also because they might say yes, and then later you find out that they don’t keep Shabbat up to your standards or vice versa. Do you keep kosher? Again, what does this even mean? There are different opinions, so even if someone was comfortable enough answering, the answer might not be helpful. Why don’t you daven at X? The answer could easily be, “My ex-husband davens there, and it’s awkward for me.” Whoops. Don’t you think Rabbi X is an asshat? What if they don’t? Do you go to the mikvah? Why not just ask what brand of tampons she uses?

These are all questions that you might be able to ask privately without offending. And if it’s the rabbi of the community, though it’s still probably in poor form to ask publicly, his or her answers are more likely to be in the public domain than those of Joe Schmoe who you met at shul. Then again, if the meal is going poorly, and somebody just made you cry, I say bring out the big guns:

“So, how’s your sex life?”