Thursday, May 18, 2006

"A Man's Touch"--article on blogger "Nice Jewish Girl" and the difficult life of shomrei negiah

From the New York Jewish Week:


A Man’s Touch
Elicia Brown - Special To The Jewish Week

"She cried herself to sleep at night. She took Zoloft. She contemplated suicide. Then she started a blog.

. . .

"For generations many Jews have wrestled with the challenge of the “shomer negiah” laws, which call for abstinence from, not only sex before marriage, but all expressions of physical affection toward unrelated members of the opposite sex. Their strictest adherents won’t even shake hands. For generations also, many Jews have found that the laws can enhance relationships. As Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis puts it, shomer negiah helps ensure potential mates that they are “not just looking in each other’s eyes, but also looking in the same direction.”

But for some — and perhaps for an increasing number as the average age of Orthodox Jewish singles shifts upward — the isolation grows unbearable. . . . "

Read the rest of the article here.

Nice Jewish Girl's blog.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually found the article to be much ado about nothing. I've read NJG's blog, and, to be frank, the issue isn't with being or not being shomer negiah. The issue is that NJG clearly has issues that far transcend being shomer negiah. Seriously, what Orthodox person blogs about her vibrators???

The issue of isolation is that she's in her mid-30's and single, not that she hasn't touched men. I think this is typical of the non-Orthodox (I'm referring to the author, not you) to globalize an issue from a single data point in an effort to bash orthodoxy. Between that and the recent column for intermarried people, I'm coming pretty close to canceling my subscription to the Jewish Week.

Tue May 23, 05:08:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I didn't read this as an attempt to bash Orthodoxy. I read it as an attempt to point out that there are aspects of Orthodox practice that can be quite challenging.

While one could, perhaps, argue that some of what Nice Jewish Girl writes is, as the saying goes, "too much information" (which is why NJG's blog is anonymous), I disagree that the article, and/or the blog, are much ado about nothing. You said, "The issue of isolation is that she's in her mid-30's and single, not that she hasn't touched men." While one could argue that the fact that NJG hadn't touched men was a symptom of her being in her mid-30's and single, that doesn't make the symptom any easier to deal with. Does the pain resulting from an untreatable physical ailment go away just because one knows the cause of the illness?

In my office, on my own floor alone, there are three Orthodox women over the age of 25 who have never been married. One has an older sister who has also never been married. For better or for worse, the tradition of shmirat negiah simply does not take into consideration the fact that some people never marry. For the purposes of this particular discussion, the reasons for people not marrying are irrelevant. I've known never-married people who pride themselves on maintaining their slim figures, while others are overweight. Some are sexy, others plain, some well-dressed, others not concerned with fashion, some brilliant, some perhaps not so much so. There are as many reasons--or lack of discernible reasons--for never-married to be unmarried as there are never-married people. Yet, strict adherence to the laws of shmirat negiah means that every never-married person must go an entire lifetime without ever having experienced any kind of physical intimacy whatsoever, even something as simple as holding hands with any member of the opposite sex who's not a relative.

I, myself, was well into my forties, if not older, before I even heard the term shomer negiah. Still, as someone who married at 28, I was often hesitant to be too physically demonstrative for fear that any display of overt physical affection might "send the wrong signal" and result in man making unwanted sexual overtures. Consequently, I know how it feels to go for long stretches of time feeling, as the old saying goes, "untouched by human hands." I must agree with NJG and the writer of this article: The isolation does, indeed, grow unbearable. Had I still been never-married at 34, I, too, might have cried myself to sleep, and worse.

My understanding is that it's been pretty well established in medical findings that babies who are deprived of physical affection fail to thrive. Why should we assume that adults deprived of physical affection for years and years of their lives will thrive any better?

Sun May 28, 05:23:00 AM 2006  

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