Shomer Negiah: Are You Lying or Gay?

A few months ago, I wrote a post about The Shidduch Crisis. I thought Adam (who pretty much hijacked the comments) made some interesting point about moderation, and the failure of our culture to teach moderation.

That idea has been expounded in a recent post by DovBear.

There are a couple of points I’d like to make (that the comments over there have kind of already touched on).

First of all, problem with moderation, as Adam pointed out, is that educators choose absolute zero over the other extreme, and they see the other extreme as inevitable. This is the reason I blame the educators. Their insistence that the other extreme is inevitable is at the same time both erroneous and self-predictive. What are the consequences of an absolute ban? Well, you’ll just make seeking and getting that which is banned even more fun and enjoyable.

And you know what, there is one thing that can’t be denied: high-school-aged kids face a biological imperative to be (in one way or another) sexually active, that there is nothing they can do (that would be considered normal and healthy) about it. We should be channeling and teaching the proper methods of using that energy rather than denying it. Like Rav Bina told us: “Az, this what a boy has a girlfriend for two weeks and doesn’t touch her is either lying or he’s a gay.”

Second, what’s wrong with it? We’ve demonized sex. And (I think I’ve mentioned this before) that’s a very Catholic attitude. It’s decidedly un-Jewish. Nowhere in early Jewish literature is sex verboten. Not even pre-marital sex. Certainly not touching. Consider that our greatest king, King David was the product of sex outside of marriage with a woman who was thought to be a Harlot (Yehuda and Tamar), a relationship that got off the ground because of pre-marital sex (Boaz and Ruth – read Ruth 3:4 and tell me “Uncover his feet” isn’t a metaphor). Consider further that our ultimate redeemer is destined to come from this line as well. What would have happened if Boaz or Yehuda were modern day yeshiva bochurim?

But the concept of negiah and preventing sex have permeated the community. I don’t understand it. Like DovBear points out, many many many “modern orthodox” boys who had physical, sexual relationships in high school turned out just fine. Some even “flipped out.” And now if you ask them about high school, they’ll probably slink their shoulders and dip their heads and be all embarassed about it, and say who they would never let their son do that now.



I especially like this comment:

Q: Which is best: a school where the kids do it and the parents and faculty know about it, or a school where the kids do it and the parents and faculty DON’T know about it?

A: This is obvious.

As the proud parent of an MO kid (female) in a 15 month and counting relationship with an MO boy I can say that they try for SN and end up with a bit more. But not so much more that we have cause for concern or distrust. And we can talk about it with them – and so can his parents.

As to what they do when not together, speaking for myself I don’t enquire and I try not to speculate.

It might be an issur (together or alone). It is also real life and I reject utterly the fact that Judaism requires me to insist that my child doesn’t do something they are 99% likely to do anyway. They can try their best like the rest of us, and make choices like the rest of us. Leave the imposed guilt to the Catholics. Might be time for some contributors to wake up?

(Emphasis added)




18 responses to “Shomer Negiah: Are You Lying or Gay?

  1. Did DovBear copy his post straight from you? Or did he actually think of something original to say?

    Noam, I think that you’re right that the educators teach zero-tolerance and that this is a problem. However, the educators are just doing the bidding of the parents. If the parents didn’t want these lessons taught, either the educators wouldn’t teach them or the parents would find new schools.

    Consider the way sex and sexual values are taught at Ramaz. First, we have a class with a rabbi that teaches all the issurim and halachos of sex. Young adults should be properly taught about what is allowed halachically and what is not allowed. And if that means being clear that doing X, Y, and Z is assur, then they should be taught in no uncertain terms what the halacha is.

    But after the laws of sexual ethics and taharat hamishpacha are taught, Ramaz students then attend a more mainstream, secular sex-education class. Facing the fact that not every Ramaz student will adhere to the laws the rabbis just taught them, the school makes sure that they are prepared to make smart and healthy decisions regarding sex.

  2. As you know from my lengthy posts on DB, I generally agree with you but I think it is a very fine (and difficult) line to draw. There is definitely a slippery slope as the hedonistic society around us clearly demonstrates – they have already taken the plunge. We need to be careful not to allow our MO society to hit that low while allowing our kids to express themselves in a healthy non-supressive manor.


  3. You quote rav binah. You also say: ‘we have demonized sex, what’s wrong with it’. I think you should ask rav binah what’s wrong with it (in certain contexts). And maybe learn some halakha. Who are you to says that things like negia have ‘permeated society’ implying that attempting to keep halakha, as opposed to giving into our hedonistic society, is a bad thing.

    We can be real with the situations and societies our children find themselves in but to ridicule bona fide halakha whilst proudly quoting your rav is farcical!

  4. I can’t respond to comment that has no content. Your words ring hollow. You’ve made no counter argument or assertion of any kind, other than to suggest that negiah is normative halachah in Judaism, without backup of any kind. And to attack me ad hominem, the weakest sort of argument there is.

    Ask people whether being “shomer negiah” was considered normative halachah before, say, 1980, and the answer you’re likely to get is “of course not.” That’s what I meant by “permeated society” that it’s a relatively new phenomenon. You can feel free to disagree, but without any substance or backup to your argument, it’s worthless.

    But just for fun, let’s fisk your comment: I think you should ask rav binah what’s wrong with it (in certain contexts). If you’re not going to make any points here, why bother saying anything at all? So you’re saying that you don’t know. Exactly my point. Thanks for strengthening it.

    as opposed to giving into our hedonistic society It’s not giving into society. It’s acknowledging the realities of Biology. There’s a stark difference, and if you’re one of the people that acquiesces to the Catholicization of Judaism and demonization of sex (a medieval idea), and the insistence that sexual activity is immoral, then what do you have to offer this discourse? You’ve closed your mind and refuse to acknowledge that contemporary religious attitudes toward sex simply don’t jive with halachah, biology and reality.

    Take, for instance, the attitude towards masturbation and ejaculation. For some reason, the religion (prior to understanding the biology of it) made ejaculation an act that made a man “unclean.” And the non-divine sources of halachah extrapolated from the story of Er and Onan (who pulled out and wasted seed during the act of sex) to suggest that masturbation and wasting seed is wrong in all instances (an extrapolation that isn’t necesarily correct, because of some obvious distinctions) and demonized that as well. But the truth is, a young man who has reached purberty has certain hormonal and biological needs (to maintain the “plumbing” as it were). There ought not be anything wrong with.

    ridicule bona fide halakha I didn’t ridicule halachah. You (and many others who lack an open mind) see any disagreement as ridicule. If halachah can’t stand up to any disagreement or question, it is weak indeed. Not to mention that you’ve yet to provide support for this halachah’s “bona fides.”

    whilst proudly quoting your rav. And here is where I question your reading comprehension. Did I quote a Rav for halachah? If you were able to read properly, you’d see that I quoted him regarding a psychological matter that has no resemblance to a psak halachah. In this particular instance, I could have made the same assertion as Rav Bina. His statement, in this instance, carries no extra weight because he’s a Rabbi, and his being a Rabbi has no relevance. I quoted him, instead of saying the same thing in my own words, because of the humorous way in which he presented his assertion (with which I agree 100%).

    Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I didn’t include ‘content’ because I assumed you were intelligent enough to figure out the implied content for yourself. Obviously not.

    A quick perusal of ch31 in rambam’s issurei biah should suffice.

    Yes, I agree that halakha should be open to dissent and discussion but I believe that this should take place within at least the following boundaries:

    (i) Those criticising place themselves within the orthodox halakhic framework, without this fundamental principle there is no room for discussion.

    (ii) Those discussing are competent in the relevant halakhic field.

    (iii) Those discussing are mature and intellectually honest.

    Furthermore a distinction should be made between the way educators and parent deal with youth who find themselves in certain situations and environments, and the way that we view the halakhic rules as relevant and applicable. We may be tolerant of a childs actions so as not to turn him away but we should always be cognizant of what the halakha should be and of what we would like our children to be doing.

  6. I’ve refuted and rebutted each of your points, shown you where you clearly were unable to comprehend the plain meaning of my posts, and ask you back up your general statements (like: “I think you should ask rav binah what’s wrong with it“) and all you come back with is calling me unintelligent. Logical Flaw #1 (where are my LSAT people?): ad hominem attack.

    Instead of actually pointing out any halachah or making any argument whatsoever, you’ve twice now called on me to go look to other people to answer questions for you. Logical Flaw #2: appeal to authority. If you’re too lazy to quote something here, then don’t bother commenting.

    Not to mention the circular arguent: to create a construct to confine the argument that nobody else has agreed to. Who determines “orthodox halachich framework” is, when that’s essentially what we’re arguing about? You? What you’ve essentially said, in so many words is “if you don’t agree with me and my definitions, you can’t argue with me.” That’s possibly the worst of your arguments (and the others are really bad).

    Do me a favor, stop commenting here. I’ve grown weary of reading and responding to your crappy attacks on me. I’d much rather have an “honest and intellectual discussion” with “mature adults” about this.

  7. I can’t see how I can be faulted for quoting the rambam. You seem to think, if I understand correctly, that halakha should be open to discussion and criticism. I think you are correct, but, as I pointed out, this debate must take lace within certain boundaries.

    If someone does not believe in the oral law and wishes to reject outright statementments made by early halakhic authorities, that person, as far as I am aware, is outside of the orthodox ‘box’.

    Please answer me straight, without any fancy ‘logical analysis’ of what i’m saying:

    When the rambam states:

    “Anyone who has relations with any of the arayos, hugs and kisses, and benefits from closeness of flesh, is given lashes mandated by the torah…”,

    do you wish to say: (i) this does not mean that negiah (in the contexts you discuss) is assur, (ii) we can argue with the position of the rambam, or (iii) this position must be reinterpreted or reevaluated under current circumstances?

  8. Re: quoting the Rambam:

    First of all, since I claimed that the attitudes towards sex in general (and the confluence with “morality”) were influenced by Catholicism, perhaps a source that isn’t post-Catholic and post-Islamic influence would get me more in line with you.

    Second of all, just saying “Read the Rambam” isn’t a fair argument. If you think the Rambam says something that supports your argument, quote the Rambam. Bring source material.

    Now, with regard to you finally quoting something from the Rambam, I understand that, and I understand the drash of Lo Tikrivu (though, personally, I don’t know that it needs to go that far, but the Rambam certainly was smarter than me). However, does the Rambam say that about a p’nuyah? Remember, I am not advocating gilui arayos. I’m advocating relaxed attitudes toward teenage physical intimacy and sexuality in general.

  9. Noyam – If something is assur, it is assur. You can’t expect rabbis to take any other position on it.

    “I’m advocating relaxed attitudes toward teenage physical intimacy and sexuality in general” is directly contrary to what halacha says is allowed, isn’t it?

    Personally, I think your argument is strong for saying we shouldn’t have separate seating at wedding receptions. Or that lunch period can be co-ed. These separations of the sexes seem unnecessary and, I would think, cause unhealthy attitudes about how to relate to the opposite gender. But how far can you take this argument?

  10. is directly contrary to what halacha says is allowed, isn’t it?

    Is it? That’s what nobody can tell me!

  11. Adam,

    The argument (as far as I can take it) is two-pronged.

    On the one hand, we have to relax our Victorian attitudes toward sex and sexuality. In all respects, with regard to separate seating (like you said) and co-ed classes and schools (and encouraging more interaction between boys and girls).

    On the other hand, we have to recognize the inevitable social consequence of being a teenager. Whether we allow it or not, whether we encourage it or not, physical intimacy between teenage boys and girls will happen. My point is that sticking out heads in the sand, and continually pointing to and “halachah” (which, as I said right above, I’m still not sure is as prohibited as modern “Orthodox” and Ultra-Orthodox make it seem) as a source to shun people that do things like this is more damaging than the act themselves.

    Teenagers are inclined to do things like this. We can’t stop it, we can only hope to channel it properly. So what’s better?

    Teach your children that physical intimacy (hugging, kissing, etc.) is special, what it entails (read sexual health classes) that your body belongs to you (and how to protect it), and that what you want to do, when and only when you are ready and you want it, is up to you?

    Or teach your child that sex is bad, sex is wrong, touching is wrong, you can’t possibly understand physical intimacy until you are married (a fallacy, I think), and then try to police that when they’ll find ways around you? And then do it in an unhealthy way?

    Compare this to government regulation: which is more effective way of controlling narcotics? Legal but regulated (pharmacies, prescriptions, etc.) or completely illegal (gangs, drug wars, killing, poisoned product, weapons, etc.)?

    Do you think it’s a coincedence that the teen pregnancy rate was the lowest ever in the US in 2005? During the so-called age of immorality? I don’t think so at all. Because as society-at-large accepts sex, it also teached the right and healthy way to do it. And to prevent STDs and pregnancies. As opposed to in the 1950’s, when kids had sex anyway, except they didn’t know how to handle it?

  12. Pregnancies are lower because more people have access to birth control, morning-after pills, and abortions. Yes, the fact that parents are more open-minded about sex makes it more likely that more girls will be on the pill. But that works well in a society that accepts pre-marital sex. Not the same under halacha.

    Now for the part where I am way out of my league but will try to contribute anyway:

    I can’t tell you where it says that you have to be married before having sex, but I can definitely tell you where the rules of nida are. And if I’m not mistaken, the passuk says (roughly translated) “You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness.”

    What do you mean when you say “physical intimacy?” If that means “uncovering her nakedness,” it’s assur. So too are other behaviors that merely come close to uncovering her nakedness, even if she is still fully dressed (I know that that’s not literally what the passuk said, but the passuk is considered to cover behaviors that come close to uncovering nakedness – whatever that means – as well). So, as a biblical law (I can’t spell m’de’oraisa), it’s assur for a boy and girl to do anything that comes close to uncovering her nakedness. What does “comes close” mean? The rabbis draw the line at touching.

    You can disagree at where the rabbis draw the line. But the line does have to be drawn somewhere, and that place has to be well before the girl is naked. Then there are other rules, like the negative commandment against spilling seed in vain, and the positive commandment of being fruitful and multiplying (which many rabbis see as proscribing certain forms of sexual activity).

    Noam, I agree with you that we have to do more to keep our children safe and healthy when it comes to sex. But we can’t preach anything that is contrary to halacha, either.

    Also, I disagree with your premise that the Jewish values of sex are colored by Catholic attitudes. On the contrary, Judaism sees sex as important, even holy, under the right circumstances. Catholic priests take certain vows of asceticism that Judaism considers sinful.

  13. Adam,

    You’ve made some good points, but let me respond to them. You’re whole argument about “lo tikrivu” becomes moot once we change our entire outlook. Let me explain:

    Like you said, the whole thing is based on nidda. Well, if we accept that certain things ought not be taboo, then why not let single girls go to mikva?

    Which comes back to my assertion that Jewish values of sex are colored by Catholic attitudes

    First of all, that’s a little bit of a distortion of my point. I specifically said that the catholicization of contemporary attitudes towards women and sex is decidedly unJewish. It’s not “Jewish values” it’s modern assertions of morality and sex. And, like you said, and I said originally, they are not the true-Jew way of thinking. But they certainly exist. Take, for example, the way “frum” women dress, the way we’ve separated men and women at weddings (which you’ve previously mentioned), etc. These are Victorian and Catholic and not Jewish.

    But we can’t preach anything that is contrary to halacha, either. This sounds like, then, you would fall to the second scenario in my “War on Drugs” example. That’s dangerous, and I must vehemently disagree. If we’re going to survive as a religion, without losing people, then we need flexibility to adapt to the changing reality of the world (and our deepening understand of it).

  14. Yeah but those are all examples where the Torah itself gave alternatives. The Torah doesn’t say that these sexual relationships are wrong, except in certain situations.

    I don’t have an answer for you on the premarital sex thing, except to say that I think someone more knowledgeable than me would probably be able to point to the source that proscribes premarital sex. As I said before, I suspect it may have something to do with the negative commandment against spilling seed in vain, as well as the positive commandment to be fruitful and multiply (which, although it is a positive commandment, can extend its reach to make certain behaviors assur).

    Noam, your point – about the laws being made in a time when teenagers got married at a young age – makes sense. But still I don’t see how you can overcome the fact that the Torah forbids it. Even if one agrees that the laws are ill-suited to teenagers, it doesn’t change the fact that they are bound to them. Again: yes, they are all going to break the rules to which they are “bound.” But it’s hard to ask rabbis to teach that.

    Society has come to believe that homosexuality is inborn. A gay man will have strong urges to have sexual relations with other men. But the Torah clearly forbids it, even though he was born that way and can’t help what his natural urges are. Should we make sure he is properly educated so that he can make smart choices about sex? Yes. Should we demonize him or make him an outcast? Of course not. But should we acknowledge that his actions are contrary to halacha? Absolutely, because they are. And should we educate him (as a child or teenager) so that if he chooses to live a halachic lifestyle, he should know how to do so? Of course we should.

    There’s a fine line between creating an environment that puts sex in a healthy perspective for kids, and tacitly approving sexual behavior. And since halacha does not approve of the behavior, neither can their Jewish educators. I agree that right now educators are erring on the side of halachic safety, and ignoring the need to teach healthy attitudes about sex. The question is, how can they teach the healthy attitudes without crossing the line? I think that so far nobody has an answer to that question.

  15. But still I don’t see how you can overcome the fact that the Torah forbids it

    Because I disagree with this basic assumption.

    You say it’s forbidden from the torah, I say the prohibition is the creation of mortal men during a time when the realities no longer apply. (Not the Torah, which I believe the divinity of, but this interpretation of it that makes it forbidden).

    The shulchan aruch was not Moshe Rabbenu. It is not the word of God from Sinai. It is the opinion of a well-learned and intelligent man, interpreting his perception of the ancient writings of other mortal men.

    Earlier you mentioned something about arguing with “established law that has been on the books for hundreds of years.” This is curious. The span of Jewish History is thousands of years, and yet we seem inclined to be bound by the recent, a mere drop in the bucket of time. Why should that which was written hundreds of years ago take primacy over that which was written thousands?

    The fact is the Shulchan Aruch was marginally closer to Sinai than we are. Halachah is not monolithic. Many argue with the Shulchan Aruch. The Shulchan Aruch himself had to decide between many conflicting opinions (often because of the changing realities).

    With regard to your point about spilling seed and pirya v’rivya I don’t think pre-marital sex runs afoul of these laws (assuming any contraception is done in a halachically permitted manner and the sex is performed in a permitted way – hence my writings on changing education).

  16. As far as I know the use of contraception outside of marriage would not be possible halakhicly because their use is already very limited within marrieage and the usage of the kulot may not apply outside. I do not know for sure though.

    A side point: I heard that rav soloveitchik was very (and I mean very) opposed to the historicization and phsycologization (sorry about the spelling!) of halakha. I.e. to say that something the rambam said he only said due to influences which were around in his lifetime and in his society is incorrect, we must approach all sources as objective unless it is stated that they are not. This is what I heard in his name.

  17. Hey I just found your site- I think you may get a kick out of this post I wrote about shomer negia a while back.

  18. I’ve started a new blog called “I Hate Rav Bina”. Check it out. I could not have had a worse educational/spiritual experience at his Yeshiva, where I learned for a year, largely due to him and his influence. I’ve got plenty of material, so check the blog regularly.

    The purpose of the blog is 1) to act as a forum for people who had terrible religious experiences in the year in Israel between high school and college; and 2) to caution kids going to Israel about the dangers of oversubscribing to religious authority.

    If you went to Hakotel/Netiv Aryeh and you have similar feelings, feel free to email me at and I’d be happy to consider adding you as a co-blogger/guest blogger.

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