By Jason Brendler
Some aspects of Judaism go unpracticed by a majority of those who associate themselves with the religion. While some Jewish laws— keeping a kosher home or wearing a tallit when going to temple—are commonly practiced, others mentioned in the Torah and Talmud may seem extreme to the common observer. However, some of these laws are still upheld and carefully practiced by some Orthodox Jews including the mystifying law of shomer negiah.
Shomer negiah is Hebrew for “guarding touch” and is a Jewish law that prohibits physical contact between men and women. One who keeps this law is restricted only to contact with their spouse, children, siblings, parents, grandchildren and grandparents.
The concept of shomer negiah seems impossible to observe in today’s world as it prohibits even the casual touch between a man and a woman. Shaking hands, bumping into someone, and of course touching or kissing before marriage is all out of the question.
“I think it’s not followed by most Jews because they realize that touching people is part of everyday life,” said senior business major Jake Fuchs. “I also believe premarital sex is important because marrying someone without that experience can definitely affect the outcome of the marriage.”
Nonetheless, certain Jews observe the law so strictly that they purposely do not even sit next to members of the opposite sex in public places in order to avoid accidental contact.
“This idea was written in the Talmud which was written by men in the first century,” said Rabbi Emily Lipof, the first woman in the United States to be named a senior rabbi of a major congregation.
“It wasn’t a bad idea for that time because it kept Jewish people together. The Talmud restricted Jews from marrying members of other religions, eating with members of other religions and eventually touching people of the opposite sex.”
However, it is clear that as time goes on and concepts gain or lose relevance, certain concepts of religion are applied differently.
“Just like anything else, times change,” said Lipof who believes that today, the law doesn’t really apply.
If the law was followed by most Jews today, how would someone get a job if they couldn’t even shake an employer’s hand in an interview? How would one know their true feelings about someone they love without experiencing any physical contact with them?
“It makes it so that the relationship is not built off purely physical attraction, it’s things that run deeper, like trust,” said sophomore aerospace engineering major Nathan Lauer. Lauer is an Orthodox Jew who observes shomer negiah and has a girlfriend.
The choice of keeping shomer negiah may seem out of the ordinary to most people, but for many who observe it, it comes as second nature and a part of their Jewish upbringing.
“I converted to Orthodox Judaism when I was young and I have actively and consciously decided to grow up this way,” said Lauer. “My family converted when I was about 5 or 6, so I grew up religious.”
While the thought of college without hook ups, hugs or even high fives seems unfathomable to most, some students like Lauer firmly believe that connections between people can be established without physical contact.
“You get to really enjoy being with someone and the relationship is built off a much deeper core,” he said.