“There’s no Jewish law saying you can’t have a girlfriend,” my rabbi would joke. “The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch [a text of Jewish law] says a man must keep very very far from women. You can’t wink at her or joke with her or look at her beauty with the intention of getting pleasure or smell her perfume or look at her hair or listen to her sing. But nowhere does it say that you can’t have a girlfriend.”
If I mentioned any of this to my friends, some of them would laugh me off as sexist. But there are real, egalitarian benefits to some of these concepts.
This past Rosh Hashanah, I took a New Year’s resolution not to touch women. For my resolution, I am defining touching as any physical contact I initiate with a woman. For the next three months, I would only touch women seven times. Since then, I haven’t touched any. If someone does not know about my resolution, I will still shake her hand rather than embarrass her.
I am not arguing that people who brush against, hold or caress the gender of their affection are bad or evil. This is a standard I am holding myself to.
The law of not touching the opposite gender, known in Hebrew as “shomer negia” or “guarding touch,” is one of many laws aimed at maintaining family purity. Another such law is the prohibition of a man and woman spending time in a secluded room or area.
I first learned about being shomer in a co-ed Orthodox Jewish sleep-away camp the summer before high school. I had taken all-boys classes and been in all-boys camps throughout elementary school. I didn’t give any serious thought to the idea of taking it upon myself until after high school, when I took a gap year in a yeshiva seminary in Israel.
There, I stumbled upon a book titled “Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore? Reclaiming Intimacy, Modesty, and Sexuality” by Manis Friedman. Friedman wrote about shomer negia as a catalyst to create stronger relationships and a healthier sexuality in all stages of life. Think about how differently you would approach a relationship if you knew it would transcend physical desire. The movie date where I literally stared at a screen while “casually” wrapping my arm around a girl could instead become sitting and talking about our innermost goals and desires
The first time I held a girl’s hand romantically was on a date to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My first kiss took place behind a bunny pen while on a summer tour of Israel. We remember moments like these because of how long we have waited for them. By abstaining from physical contact now, even the simplest of touches will morph into
Being shomer is a way to overcome the brazen sexuality that seems to be shoved at us everywhere. At the mall, pictures of airbrushed, busty models are framed in the Victoria’s Secret window display. Magazine covers flaunting objectified women flank the checkout line at the supermarket. Even GoDaddy, a company that registers internet domain names, features women almost nude as a way to draw interest in their ad campaigns. The objectification of women spans television, video games and movies.
According to sexual objectification theory, this portrayal of women in society encourages men to see women as commodities to be acquired and women to view themselves as objects, valued only for their appearance rather than their competence. Being shomer is a small attempt to rewire that vision.
The main argument I hear against being shomer is that people can control themselves, even in sticky situations. Of course I can control myself when I am alone with a girl. But imagine how much safer and more consensual sex would be if we recognized merely being alone in a locked room as inherently sexual. You draw the line at “Yes means yes.” I draw the line at physical contact.
Understand the power of physical contact. Have the internal conversations and figure out what you are comfortable with.
FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: FERVENT-ADEPTE-DE-LA-MODE