Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Feminists for Negiah

I don't remember exactly when I learned what the term, "shomer negiah" meant, but I do know I was probably in middle school and that it was lobbed at me as an accusation:

"You're shomer negiah?" in a tone of, "Oh, you're one of those weirdos..."

"Negiah" is the concept in Jewish Law that forbids physical contact with members of the opposite sex, other than certain close relatives.

It's a hard concept for many people. After all, what's the big deal about shaking a guy's hand? It's not like a little hug is going to hurt anyone, right?

I'm not going to go into the "to shake or not to shake hands" argument now because it's long, tedious, and subject to many personal and halachic opinions. What I want to talk about right now is why women should be pro-negiah.

I know plenty of girls\women who are not shomer negiah (meaning, they do touch members of the opposite sex) and sometimes I just feel like yelling at them, "What the heck is wrong with you? You're giving him the milk when he should be buying the cow!" (Yeah, that's a bad analogy, visually, but I'm going to stick to it because it works.)

In Judaism, touch between a man and a woman is something sacred, to be preserved and cherished within a marriage. But what farmer is going to buy a cow when he can get milk for free, without the worries of all the expenses and maintenance that come with it? What guy is going to marry a girl if she'll give him that sacred touch without having to buy her a ring?

Honestly, girls, if he really loves and respects you, don't you think that he should value you enough to marry you? You can argue, "But we're too young," or, "We're saving up until we have enough money to get married," but when it all comes down to it, it's about commitment.

Tell him that he can only have that kiss after he's put that ring on your finger and signed the kesubah (Jewish pre-nuptial agreement) and I guarantee that if he really does love you, he'll be on his way out to buy that ring.

So have some respect for yourselves, ladies, and demand what you're worth. You're worth the price of the whole cow, not just the price of the milk.


  1. What you write sounds beautiful, but I am not sure whether you do not leave out important parts.

    As you, I thin, that from the start, the issue of marriage was about taking responsibility for the children who can spring from a sexual relationship.

    On the other hand, when he "buys the cow", what is the consequence?

    1) In theory, he should provide the living for both. In practice, many Haredi women work and finance their husbunds who are studying.

    2) The wife has a 100% duty of faithfulnes.

    3) The husbund is under the ban of Rabbi Gershon, but if it happens to him to be unfaithful, that's really not the end of the world.

    4) If "the cow" wants to leave marriage, it is only possible with his consent. And as long as she believes in it, she cannot be with any other man as long as he did not give her a get.

    So where are really the advantages for the cow of being bought???

  2. Thanks, Sem. I really wish that more girls out there would agree.

  3. Shoshi -

    Hm. I guess I was putting it all from the perspective of the girl choosing to marry a mench. I see what you mean, but if you read other parts of my blog you'll see that I make it very clear that it's better to be single than to be married to a jerk like the one who expects his wife to make the living, keep the home, do whatever he wants, listen to whatever he says etc.

    It's not reality for many people in the charedi community, though, I guess. Which truly infuriates me. See THAT community really DOES need a hearty dose of feminism.

  4. I agree with you so much on this one, your 100% right, and I wish more would see it this way too!

  5. Thanks for your comment, Babysitter. It's good to see other people who recognize this as important.

  6. I do agree that we should limit physical contact before marriage, because it will increase the chances for marriage.

    But I absolutely disagree that engaging in negiah cheapens a girl or in any way diminishes her worth. I disagree with the final point of your post "You're worth more than that." This mentality does nothing than to stigmatize women who have done things already.

    A woman who has sex because she wants to (as opposed to pleasing or manipulating someone else) in engaging in a self respecting behavior whether married or not, in my opinion.

    Holding herself back in no way ensures that she herself will actually get married (I did until I was 30 and it didn't help me). But what it does do, and why I continue to support holding back, is to create a social standard in which physical intimacy is reserved for marriage.

    Thus it is good for society, but may not pay off for her individually.

  7. Kisarita:

    You think that a guy who can have a girl without marrying her will go out of his way, and inconvenience himself, to marry said girl?

    I think that modern society proves the exact opposite. I REALLY don't like Dr. Laura, but I do think that she's right when she says that guys today take women for granted because women are willing to give themselves to the guy without expecting much in return.

    If a woman is worth touching, she should be worth marrying.

  8. Very, very well said!

    And to Kisarita:
    Women who spend their 20's in a haze of drunken one-night stands and their 30's in a panic of "why won't anyone marry me"? It's because the 30 year old guys are sleeping with the drunken 20 year olds; it's because the guys know that girls will do anything to keep them and therefore grow accustomed to instant sexual gratification; its because women display their bodies more and more and men become numb to the sacredness of nudity, sex, and intimacy.

    Though if you're coming from the standpoint that sex doesn't necessarily have to be after marriage - which Judisim explicitly states - there's not much to say, is there?

  9. As a man's point of view, before you buy a cow you want to taste the milk to make sure that the cow is a good buy. If the cow doesnt agree there are other cows out there that will agree. It is no loss off their back.

  10. Wow, ej. I guess that the "milk" is all the the cow's good for.

    And "no loss off their back"? What about the feelings of the "cows" you've tried and thrown out?

    Male chauvinism at its best, here.

  11. What about simple hugging? or other kinds of non-overly sexual touching. I do not think that this "diminishes" a girl's worth, as you so eloquently put it.

  12. SA -- That's a matter of halachic opinion. Some rabbis will say that it's okay, others will say it's not.

  13. "What about the feelings of the "cows" you've tried and thrown out?"

    Sometimes it's the feelings of the bulls the cows have demanded to try out before marrying that have gotten hurt. It's not only a male thing. Despite what some people want to believe, there are women out there that don't want to marry the guy unless they have "tried out" the guy. Likewise, there are some men that don't want to marry unless they have "tried out" the girl. If either the guy or the girl are coming from different mindsets on this issue, then I agree, it's a bad Idea as there is a good potential for hurt feelings due to the different mindsets both people are coming from. However, as long as the two people are both consistent in the sense that they are both coming from this perspective, I honestly would not see any reason to prohibit this form of behavior short of "God/Rabbis said so!"

    "You think that a guy who can have a girl without marrying her will go out of his way, and inconvenience himself, to marry said girl?"

    I have male relatives that did just that. It all depends on the guy. Despite what some people preach, not ALL men are animals who only think about sex 24/7, and not ALL women are angels themselves. There are some men that would marry the women they love even though he can have her, and conversely there are some women that just want to "try out" men. (I know right, what a shocker!) Now granted, statistically these two sides may not be equal in numbers (I would like to see sources on this), but regardless, there is a good amount of numbers on both sides of the equation to be taken into consideration. What causes hurt feelings is the mixing of these two mindsets. In my honest opinion, the solution here is to pair the men of mindset A with the women of mindset A, and the women with mindset B with the men of mindset B.

  14. Yeshivish -- Okay, so there are girls out there who act just like the guys. That doesn't make it right. It sounds like someone's just bound to get hurt.

    There's also the little-known fact that females physiologically begin to feel emotional attachment due to hormones released during intimacy. (See "Unprotected" by Dr. M. Grossman) Because males do NOT have this same hormone release, it's usually the females who end up feeling hurt in the end, no matter what the females' original intentions for the relationship were.

    For more about "Unprotected": http://www.miriamgrossmanmd.com/unprotected.php

  15. Please. If we're talking about a relationship, men hurt and mourn after a breakup too. (though usually for a much shorter period than women)

    And women who have one night encounters with a stranger, aren't likely to fall in love over it. They may feel icky and cheap but that's unrelated.

    I think shomer negiah has it's place but it's not for everyone.

    The not-so-rosy side to the shomer negiah until marriage culture, which you can read about in this blog. This is one person who could have used a healthy dose of negiah before marriage. or at least during engagement.

    specifically, a stage of negiah sans intercourse might have helped her a lot.


  16. "There's also the little-known fact that females physiologically begin to feel emotional attachment due to hormones released during intimacy."

    Actually it's not a little known fact, but a widely repeated stereotype.

    It conflicts with mine and my friend's experiences. Oxytocin is secreted both my men and women during orgasm. In actuality, men are more likely to fall in love after sex, and women are more likely to fall in love before engaging in sex, which is probably why they are hurting more... they were already in love.

    Is this the same Miriam Grossman who wrote "The wonder of becoming you: how a jewish girl grows up" which jumps from menstruation to reproduction but omits any and all references to sex?" I wouldn't stake in what she writes.

  17. yeshivish atheist,
    i know it sounds cruel, but I think that a women should sexually check out a man before marrying him.

    To check out someone i don't think it's necessary to have intercourse with them, but she should engaged in negiah with him, to see if it makes her want more or not, to test her arousal. (Arousal is the key!) the majority of times it will work out, and if it doesn't, better before the wedding than after.

    I know some people may not consider it halachic but I'm a big fan of the shomer until engaged category. and for those who are halachic but willing to cut corners, it's strictly in the d'rabanan category, if that puts them at ease.

  18. It's a scientific study, Kisarita, but you're welcome to argue with it if you like.

    Thanks for the link. I'll go check it out.

  19. Um, I don't see how a "little negiah" would have helped this chick out at all. A little awareness of herself and a little self-confidence would have gone a long way but being able to touch the guy? Why would that have helped?

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  21. In regards to your comment about Dr. Grossman, yes, it is the same woman. She wrote that first book, however, for the religious community through a frum publisher, so it's pretty obviously why she left out any references to sex. The book is to help frum families teach their daughters about "becoming women," and no frum family would buy it if it discussed sex. Instead, they probably wouldn't have any guide and all.

    Dr. Grossman is a psychiatrist and the statistics in her books are from respected studies. She doesn't just make things up in her book. This is not just a "widely repeated stereotype."

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