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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q8.8 TOC Q8.10 >

Question 8.9:
I've heard that Orthodox men can't touch women. Is this true?


First, let's look at the obligations that the Torah places on men:

The Shulchan Aruch in Even haEzer Chapter 21 talks about the requirement of men being far from women lest men feel tempted to sin. This even goes as far as to forbid gazing (not to be confused with "looking at") women. This prohibition is also part of the idea of men not touching women. There are those who hold that for men to touch women (other than their wife at a permitted time) in any romantic way ("derech chibba") is a Toraitic prohibition, as all women must be presumed to be in nidda (even when a woman is not having her period, she is still in nida if she has not been to the mikvah.).Given all of this, the Talmud specifies a number of restrictions to prevent men from transgressing:

  1. A man and his woman are not allowed to touch, if they are neither related nor married. This is because of the fear that touching might lead to sexual transgressions. As an extension of this, Orthodox men aren't supposed to sit next to women to which they are neither related nor married.

  2. A husband and wife may not touch if the woman is menstruating, or for a specified period after menstruation/childbirth (the length of the period varies depending on the sex of the child). This is because they are forbidden to have sex during this time, and the thought is that if the husband and wife touch in any way, they may be too strongly tempted.

    Hence, during "niddah" (the time of the women's menstrual flow), additional restrictions are in place. These extra stringencies apply because the couple is already intimate; presumably, it doesn't take much to lead to "the act". These stringencies include:

    The only exception to these restrictions is pikuach nefesh (to save a life). More information can be found in Secret of Jewish Femininity.

    As a result of this, many couples that observe these laws sleep on twin beds (pushed together during non-Niddah periods and during the day, so as not to make the status public). Sometimes, "fences" are used, such as one partner putting down something so the other can pick it up.

  3. Men and women shouldn't be mixed during prayer. This is because the presence of the opposite sex is thought to be distracting during prayer. Additionally, a person ought to pray from an orientation of aloneness, as opposed to completeness.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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