Wednesday, October 07, 2009

"Untouched by human hands," or just cautious?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009, 4:32 PM

Another blogger (Orthodox) recently mentioned that, when his wife first began to observe shmirat n'giah (see explanation below), she was happy to feel that her body was back under her own control, but she later concluded that control of her body had simply shifted from the lechers to the rabbis. I'm mentioning this because I originally planned to publish this post after Isru Chag/day after Simchat Torah, but the, in my opinion, related fray currently going on over at Brooklyn Wolf's blog convinced me that now might be an appropriate time. (For the benefit of the Hebrew-challenged, the word "tzniut [tznius]," frequently used in that post, means "modesty.") I can't quite put a finger on why I think that sh'mirat n'giah and the great debate going on in the comments to that post are related. I guess it's the issue of control.

Maybe I just come from a physically undemonstrative family, but I remember being surprised by how casually New Yorkers hugged and kissed one another. Growing up in a South Jersey suburb, the only place I can remember seeing that sort of behavior was between the hosts and guests on television's late-night Tonight Show. I've never been comfortable with that sort of greeting. So the Orthodox practice of sh'mirat n'giah--refraining from any physical contact with members of the opposite gender who aren't one's spouse or immediate family members--might actually be helpful to me and to others who are similarly reticent.

It also might be helpful to singles who don't wish to be pressured into physical relationships for which they're not emotional ready. As Nice Jewish Girl explained here, it's easier to say "I'm shomer/shomeret n'giah" than "I don't want to sleep with you."

But, for long-term singles, sh'mirat n'giah can be brutal, as Nice Jewish Girl was saying--see here, especially--and, for those who never marry, it can be downright cruel. How can any human being be expected to live an entire lifetime with almost no physical contact with another human being?

So I'm forced to give sh'mirat n'giah mixed reviews.


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