Miriam Zeitlin explains the meaning and benefits of shomer negiah

What is Shomer Negiah?

Shomer Negiah, meaning “observing touch,” is a Jewish practice that restricts physical contact between members of the opposite gender who are not married or closely related. This concept may seem restrictive or outdated to some. It may even feel difficult in practice. However, there is scientific evidence that supports the benefits of practicing Shomer Negiah, particularly in the context of shidduch dating and relationship choices. Essentially, Shomer Negiah is the avoidance of intimate physical contact with anyone other than one’s spouse, and its principles offer insight into the influence of early physical contact on relationship dynamics.

Shomer Negiah in Halacha

The Torah gives shomer negiah sources in two verses in Parshas Vayikra: “None of you shall come near anyone of his own flesh to uncover nakedness: I am the Lord” (18:6), and “Do not come near a woman during her period of uncleanness to uncover her nakedness” (18:19). While these may seem more applicable to men, women are equally required to keep the halachos of shomer negiah.

The Reason Behind Shomer Negiah: The Power of Touch

Touch is vital for humans. When babies are born, the first touch they feel from their mom helps them bond and feel loved. This is true for adults, too. When we hug or hold someone’s hand, it makes us feel safe and happy. This is because touch can help calm us down and reduce worry or stress. It’s like a secret way of talking without words, where we can show we care and support each other.

Touch is not just about feelings; it also helps our bodies. For example, when we get a massage, it can make our muscles feel less tight and help with pain. This is so important for our health. Touch is also used in therapy to help people who feel very anxious or sad. It can make them feel better because it gives them a sense of comfort and safety.

But if we don’t get enough touch, like hugs and comforting touches, we might start to feel lonely or down. This shows just how much we need touch in our lives. It’s a big part of what makes us feel connected to others and helps keep our mind and body healthy.

Physical Touch and its Effect on Relationships

Physical touch also can influence our emotions and behavior. A significant study published in the “Journal of Experimental Psychology” highlighted how early intimate interactions in a relationship could lead to reduced satisfaction and commitment in the long term. This finding suggests that the hormonal effects of physical intimacy can complicate the process of assessing a partner’s suitability and the potential longevity of the relationship.

Another notable study conducted by Brigham Young University researchers investigated the effects of waiting until after marriage to introduce physical intimacy and how it affects our marital relationships. The study, which involved a diverse group of 2,035 married individuals across the United States, found significant benefits for couples who delayed such intimacy until after marriage compared to those who did not wait.

  • 22% higher relationship stability
  • 20% higher relationship satisfaction
  • 12% better communication
  • 15% better marital intimacy quality

Shomer Negiah and Dating

The early introduction of physical touch can create an illusion of intimacy and closeness that may not accurately reflect the actual depth of the relationship. This can lead to couples advancing their relationship at an unnaturally rapid pace, potentially resulting in feelings of resentment, unmet expectations, and conflict later on.

Scientific evidence supports the notion that physical touch can indeed cloud our judgment, leading us to make poor decisions in our relationships. Hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine, which are released when we engage in physical contact, create feelings of warmth, connection, and pleasure. This hormonal surge can often blind us to red flags in a relationship.

One study conducted by researchers at the University of California found that oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone,” can cause individuals to feel overly trusting and ignore social cues that would ordinarily raise alarm bells. In the context of romantic relationships, this could mean overlooking problematic behaviors or incompatibilities that would otherwise be cause for concern.

Another study by Concordia University demonstrated that dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to feelings of pleasure and reward, can lead to an overestimation of a potential partner’s character and strengths, thereby impairing our ability to make sound judgments.

Both these studies highlight the potent influence of touch-induced hormones on our perception and decision-making. They underscore the potential benefits of refraining from physical touch in the early stages of a relationship. By doing so, individuals may be better equipped to make clear-headed, rational decisions about their partners and the future of their relationship.

The Risks of Not Being Shomer Negiah

There are also potential psychological risks to consider when engaging in physical touch before marriage. This can lead to increased feelings of anxiety and guilt, particularly for individuals who hold strong beliefs about the importance of waiting until marriage. These emotions can have a significant impact on an individual’s mental health and overall well-being.

Additionally, engaging in physical touch before marriage can increase the risk of heartbreak if the relationship ends. This is because losing the physical connection can intensify feelings of loss and rejection, making the breakup more emotionally painful for both individuals involved.

Rabbi Wallerstein once shared a story that powerfully illustrates this point. A young woman and her boyfriend, who had been dating for some time, visited him. Knowing that they had been together for a while, Rabbi Wallerstein asked the boy about his intentions regarding marriage. The boy casually responded, “Sure, maybe in a year or so.” Sensing a lack of commitment, Rabbi Wallerstein asked for their full Jewish names and pretended to prepare a marriage document. He then asked two friends in his kitchen to act as witnesses. When he presented the document to the boy, implying an immediate commitment to marriage, the boy turned pale and swiftly left the house, revealing his true intentions. The girl was left in tears, realizing that the boy had been using her for physical gratification rather than seeking a genuine, committed relationship.

Shomer Negiah can only enhance a relationship, Miriam Zeitlin explains how

Shomer Negiah During the Engagement Period

You may understand why shomer negiah can be an issue while dating. That makes sense. What about if you’re already engaged and are in a committed relationship? Focusing on not touching before marriage, is really important for couples who want to follow the laws of Taharas Hamishpacha. This is good practice for the times in married life when they will have to follow these rules and not touch each other. Getting used to this before they get married helps them be ready and feel more comfortable with these rules later.

The age-old Jewish practice of not touching can be difficult, but it’s a way for the couple to show they are serious about their beliefs and their future together. It’s like training for a sport – the more you practice, the better you get. By not touching, they learn how to show love and care in different ways, like talking and spending quality time together. This helps them build a strong bond that’s not just about physical closeness.

Shomer Negiah’s Influence on Marriage

It’s important to clarify that the Torah, unlike the Christian or ancient Greek views, does not view physical touch or intimacy in a negative light. On the contrary, it is seen as a beautiful and sacred aspect of marriage that creates unity and love between spouses. In marriage, physical intimacy is an essential component of building and maintaining a strong, healthy relationship. It provides a means for couples to express their love, passion, and affection towards each other in a deeply personal and meaningful way. Couples who observe the Halachos of Taharas Hamishpacha (Jewish family purity laws) discover that there are many ways to cultivate closeness and intimacy in a relationship beyond physical touch.

Building a deep and meaningful connection in a relationship involves more than just physical intimacy. It requires a foundation of mutual understanding, shared experiences, and emotional vulnerability. One effective way to have this type of closeness is through open and honest communication. Discussing hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties with your partner can bring you closer, allowing you to understand each other on a deeper and more intimate level. This mutual vulnerability can lead to a strong emotional connection that surpasses purely physical interaction.

Active listening is another critical component of building intimacy in a relationship. This involves fully focusing on your partner’s words, showing empathy, and understanding their perspective, which can strengthen the emotional bond between you.

Misconceptions about Being Shomer Negiah

There are several misconceptions surrounding the practice of Shomer Negiah that are worth addressing. One common misconception is that couples who wait to engage in physical touch until marriage will struggle with physical compatibility in their relationship. However, research and experience show that physical compatibility is more about communication, trust, and mutual respect than any specific physical skill or attribute. Couples who take the time to develop a strong emotional bond and mutual understanding often find that their physical relationship is enriched as a result.

Another misconception is that waiting to engage in physical touch implies a lack of desire or attraction between partners. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It is actually a sign of respect for your partner.  Waiting to engage in physical touch often requires a significant amount of self-restraint, indicating a considerable level of attraction and desire. What sets these couples apart is their commitment to building a relationship based on more than just physical attraction.

Finally, some people believe that waiting until marriage before engaging in physical touch is an outdated or unnecessary practice. However, the emotional, psychological, and relational benefits of waiting, which are supported by scientific evidence, suggest otherwise. Waiting before engaging in physical touch is a can lead to a more fulfilling, stable, and satisfying relationship in the long run.

Enrich Your Marriage With Shomer Negiah

It’s important to understand that the strength and depth of a relationship extend far beyond the realm of physical touch. Emotional connection, achieved through open communication, shared experiences, and emotional vulnerability, plays a crucial role in forming a lasting bond between a couple.

In the context of Shomer Negiah, waiting until marriage before indulging in physical touch allows couples to focus on these essential aspects of their relationship. They are able to build a solid foundation based on understanding and emotional intimacy, which can lead to more fulfilling and enduring relationships.

To learn more about shomer negiah and the many beautiful aspects of a frum relationship, contact Miriam Zeitlin, for a supportive and understanding frum dating and relationship coach. 

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