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Shomer Nagiah: Touchguard    

Shomer Nagiah: Touchguard

An initially physical relationship makes the couple believe that they’re compatible. It also fools the couple into thinking that they really love each other…


If you had told me ten, five, no, even two years ago that I would be “shomer nagiah”, I would have laughed in your face and called you crazy. Back then, I was a “modern” woman with “modern”, westernized ideas of social etiquette. I used to look at the religious crowd with their unfashionable dress and over-the-top prudeness with a bit of disdain. Even though I was already keeping kosher, keeping family purity, and well on my way to a more observant lifestyle, “shomer nagiah” was where I drew the line. “That’s too much for me,” I thought. There was no practical reason on earth that would justify this way of life to me.  Okay, those of you that are unfamiliar with this term are asking, “SO WHAT’S SHOMER NAGIAH?!!”
Shomer Nagiah is “touchguard”, a term used to describe the physical separation of men and women in public social circumstances. From the time a girl and boy from an observant Jewish family come of age, at approximately 12 or 13 years old, they are prohibited from any physical contact with members of the opposite sex, aside from family. This prohibition lasts up until the boy or girl gets married. Even then, there are physical restrictions within the marriage. “Whoah!” I bet you’re thinking… “These people are crazy! As if it weren’t hard enough to be a Jew, now there’s this rule that I can’t even shake hands with someone I meet?! What world are we living in??” That’s what I used to think, too.  Before you sign off on this article, please allow me to explain. If you’re like me, you’ve got to be curious as to why a modernized woman decided to antiquate her lifestyle.
To begin with, let’s discuss the concept of man and woman. We were created as two opposite beings in every sense of the word. Not only are we completely opposite physically, we are also opposite mentally and emotionally. How many times have we had the same complaint against each other, “He/she just doesn’t understand me!” The way we approach any situation is from two different extremes. Women tend to look at things from a more emotional point of view, while men tend to try to rationalize or analyze any issue (to death). Sorry, guys, you know it’s true!
While a man is more emotionally disconnected from, well, everything, women tend to take the good and the bad into their hearts. It’s absolutely exhausting! Even our bodies were created with different purposes. A man’s reproductive organs were created to “give life”, as it were, and a woman’s body was created to partner in the creation of life, as well as to grow and sustain it.  I think that if we weren’t obligated by the Torah to get married, then many of us wouldn’t! Who needs the headache of trying to understand where he’s coming from, or trying to feel and meet her emotional needs?
Why do we need to bother ourselves with trying to build a happy life with someone who is different from us in every way? The bottom line is that without a marriage, we wouldn’t fulfill our spiritual purpose on earth. To clarify, by “we”, I mean “men”. Aside from the fact that marriage is a Torah obligation for a man, it is also socially much harder for a man. There is good reason for this, however. Marriage is the perfect vehicle by which a man can overcome his selfish tendencies and learn to focus on and care for another person. By nature, men are just not programmed this way. Men are not nurturers like women. A man needs a wife to help balance his personality by forcing him to look beyond himself. It’s a perfect setup, really.
In order to understand the concept of shomer nagiah, let’s first regress back to the fun and happy time called “adolescence”. To begin with, I must say I never want to repeat that phase of my life again! All of the social drama, the gossip, the misguided ideas of what’s right and wrong, the constant inner turmoil, the need to wear black and listen to loud and depressing music, etc .- what was I thinking?! How in the world did I really think that I knew better than everyone else?  Aside from all of the ups and downs we went through as teenagers, I’d like to focus on the boy/girl interaction. As maturing (by this I mean only physically; certainly not emotionally!) young adults, adolescents are bombarded with all kinds of conflicting thoughts.
If you didn’t grow up in a religious home, your main life questions, like mine, were probably, “Does this guy like me?” or, “Where should we hang out Friday night?” If you were a deep thinker, your questions might have been more like, “Why don’t my parents understand me?” Well, all of the mental and emotional anguish we went through as teenagers was greatly, if not completely, due to our relationships with the opposite sex. A teenager’s life becomes so unbearably complicated due to the peer pressure to date and be in a romantic relationship. Now, as a parent, I look at the unwitting victims of society’s lack of moral standards with a great deal of pity. If only they knew that there is absolutely no reason or justification for interacting on a social level with the opposite sex. If only I had known that not only was it unnecessary to be dating, it was actually hurting me!
“Whoah, hold on a minute. Are you saying you’re against dating?” you might be asking. Yes, that’s what I’m saying. I’m not only against it for religious reasons, in the respect that premarital relations are prohibited by the Torah; I’m also against it because it just doesn’t make sense. As a young teenager, there is just no practical reason to date! You’re not getting married, you’re not looking for a life partner- you’re just looking for someone to fill up the loneliness or to have a good time with.  Now I realize that along with the constant semi-depressed state many adolescents find themselves in, there is a great deal of loneliness as well. Society thinks this is a normal part of growing up, and to an extent, maybe they’re right. However, the complications of broken relationships and broken hearts may very well tip some kid over the edge into a severe depression. Boys especially are almost powerless against the overwhelming influence of their raging hormones if they don’t have parents who are willing to support them emotionally during these challenging years.
Now let’s look at society’s warped idea of a good relationship.  Society considers it normal to begin dating at around the age of 13. Then we’re all supposed to turn into serial daters until by some miracle we meet “the one”. During this process, we’re expected to be physically intimate with all of the people we date. If we refuse to be intimate, the relationship usually ends rather abruptly.  In between relationships, we are expected to mask our loneliness with nights out at the bars and one-night-stands. Then, once we find the one we think we want to marry, we are supposed to live together for several years before we finally get married. In the meantime, why not have a few kids together? If we’re lucky enough to eventually get to the chupah, we’re expected to maintain our loyalty to each other forever, or at least until we’re divorced. Once we’re divorced, we’re expected to relive the empty high life of being single while searching for another potential marriage partner, although many of us aren’t even sure why we feel the need to go through that again. Many divorcees don’t want to do it again, so they resign to a life of lonely singlehood or shallow relationships.
I ask you, is this normal???  Why do we live by these ridiculous social standards? By looking at romantic expectations in this light, is it any wonder that so few of us are actually in a healthy, emotionally satisfying relationship? Where is the crux of the problem? According to Jewish law, the problem lies in the prohibited male/female interactions. As parents, we are giving our children extremely mixed messages about love and relationships. On one hand, we all want our children to eventually settle down with one person. On the other hand, we unwittingly encourage them to turn into promiscuous, misguided young adults with severely skewed expectations of what a healthy relationship is. To me, the most shocking thing of all is that most of us don’t think it’s unhealthy to grow up this way! We naively trust that the way society tells us to live is the right way, instead of looking at the advice of the Torah. Most of us parents didn’t grow up getting good relationship advice from our parents, and therefore we don’t have that wisdom to share with our children. But this is no excuse! Even if we didn’t grow up with parents who were prime examples of a healthy relationship, it doesn’t mean we can attribute our mistakes to ignorance. However, Rebbe Nachman says, “Don’t despair. You can start over from this very moment.”
Even if our children are already in their twenties and still looking (or not looking) for “the one”, we can help get them on the fast track to a soulmate relationship. First things first- if you have kids that are just now beginning to want to date, please do your part as a parent and explain to them there is no reason for them to complicate their lives. What is the power of shomer nagiah? It eliminates all forms of physical interaction. This might sound severe, but think about this: if a boy thinks it’s okay to shake hands with a girl and vice versa, they will then think it’s okay to hug. If it’s okay to hug, then it’s definitely okay to kiss. If it’s okay to kiss, it’s even better to become physically intimate! If it’s okay to be intimate with one boy or girl, then why not be intimate with another, either while still in the relationship, or two seconds after it’s over? A byproduct of the boy/girl intimacy is the added problem that boys and men have little or no respect for women as a result.
The Torah teaches that a man must cherish his wife. How many men that you know cherish their wives? When women are too easily available, it is a natural reaction for men to take them for granted. And to all of the single ladies reading the garbage that’s telling us how to dress and how to get a guy’s attention, please stop reading it! These magazines are damaging your chances at true romance, not to mention your self-esteem. Your beauty is not in the way you look. It is in your heart and the way you respect yourself and others. If you really want to know what true beauty is, I suggest you listen to Rav Brody’s CD called, “Your Beauty”. You will never look at physical beauty the same way. Beyond feeling beautiful, ladies, you also deserve to feel like you are one in a million- because you are. “You are a daughter of The King! You are Hashem’s diamond, His most precious possession. Do you think your Father wants His daughter behaving like a low-class maidservant?” asks Rav Brody.  I can assure you of one thing, precious women: If you hold yourself in high regard, then men will do the same. If you let a man know you are not physically available, you will eventually attract a man who is spiritually deserving of you, and not some social hunter looking for his next night’s prey.
Now that we see how one thing leads to another, can you see the picture I’m trying to create? If we don’t draw the line at the very beginning, it’s almost impossible to draw the line at the half-way mark! Imagine that you’re eating a piece of chocolate cake. Isn’t it much harder to stop eating it half-way through than to not eat it at all? Shomer nagiah goes by the same concept: we can stop the troubles before they start!  We don’t have to wait until we’re suffering from a broken heart to say, “I’m going to be different.”
We don’t have to wait for our children to catch a disease or get pregnant to prohibit them from having sex. Ladies, maybe you can relate to this situation: A couple “fall in love” after they have been intimate. Things are great for a few weeks. Maybe the honeymoon phase lasts a month. Eventually, the couple settles into a routine, maybe even moves in together. This goes on for several years, with the woman pressuring the guy to get married and commit himself to her. He puts it off and puts it off until finally, the relationship is over. Then these girls run crying with a broken heart to their girlfriends, agonizing over why this guy didn’t want to get married. Didn’t she give him everything she had? What more could he possibly want?? Does this sound familiar?
Rav Brody wisely says, “Why would a guy want to buy the cow when he can get the milk for free?” Of course, most relationships that get physical very quickly don’t even make it this far. After a few short weeks the guy has likely moved on to another conquest. Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein loves to roll his eyes at the three famous words that starry-eyed girls in new relationships tell him: “But he’s different!” “NO HE’S NOT!” Rabbi Wallerstein emphatically states. A guy is a guy is a guy! When it comes to sex, they are all controlled by their hormones. This is definitely one area in which men have zero logic and rational behavior.  The only way a guy may be different is if he’s an observant boy who was taught that physical intimacy is a precious gift that is to be preserved for marriage. If his parents raise him in this way, chances are he won’t be dating until he’s ready to get married.
Can you imagine how much emotional agony and heartache we could have avoided had we known this growing up? Oh, yes, and then there’s the spiritual ramifications we must face.  We live in a world of cause and effect, whether we realize it or not. For example, according to Jewish law, a girl is considered niddah (ritually impure and therefore physically off-limits) from the time she first begins menstruating until the time she goes to the mikvah.  If you want to know more about the spiritual powers of the mikvah, listen to Rav Brody’s CD entitled, “The Magic Mikvah.”  So the girl and anyone who engages in physical intimacy with her is punished with karet, or cut off from the spiritual source.
As parents, we want what’s best for our children. We do everything we can to help them have happy, fulfilling lives. But when it comes to their eternity of happiness, we are completely ignorant of our responsibilities. Most of us are unaware because we were not raised this way. Whatever the case may be, Rebbe Nachman says, “Don’t despair. If you believe it is possible to ruin, then believe it is possible to rectify.”  Whether it’s you or your children who have gone this route, it’s never too late to change. Right now you can decide to make a fresh start. From this moment on, you can teach your children about the spiritual value of waiting until marriage. If you are a young adult who is trying to find a soulmate, hold off on any physical contact. Not only will this quickly rule out the ones who are only interested in a physical relationship, but it will also help you to attract your soulmate much quicker. If you are busy in a dead-end relationship, how is God supposed to give you “the one”? Also, you have the added benefit of a relationship that is genuine and uncomplicated. Isn’t it amazing how sex complicates everything?  Not only does it make you think you have feelings that you really don’t, it puts an extra strain on the relationship that you may not even be aware of!
If you’re looking for a life partner, keep things simple and real. Focus on who that person is, not how they make you feel. Those stars in your eyes only happen after you have been intimate with someone. This is one of the expert ploys of the Other Side- to make you think you have found the love of your life. That way, the real love of your life is almost guaranteed to never make an appearance!
When you are dating a potential spouse, pay attention to the conversation. What are your life goals? What are your religious and spiritual paths? Do you want children? What are your thoughts about how to raise them? What were your childhoods like? What are your families like? These are the things that build the foundation of a solid relationship. Yes, this sounds nice, but some of you may still be thinking, “I’ve got to try the equipment before I buy!” That is absolutely not true! We see the answer all around us, yet we don’t want to admit it. Look at the beautiful Hollywood couples. Most of their relationships end in cheating or failing for other reasons. The problem with trying before you buy is it makes you think that you are already compatible physically.
What happens once a couple gets married? I once heard a great saying: “The best way to kill a romance is to get married.” The initially great physical relationship makes the couple believe that they will never need to work on that area. It also makes the couple think they have feelings that they really don’t.  The reality is that in order to have a great physical connection with one another, we must have a strong emotional connection. This concept explains several situations.  First, now we can understand why the spark fades after people get married. They were under the illusion that the physical aspect of their relationship was above the rest of it- as if their disagreements or emotional disconnection would never affect their physical attraction. Does that make any sense? Not to me. Second, we can see that there are many older couples that have been married for many years and still have an attraction and desire for one another. One of the main reasons for this is their great emotional bond. No matter how gorgeous that girl or guy is, if you don’t work on your emotional connection, the physical attraction is guaranteed to disappear.
I understand this is a lot to digest, and indeed much mental reprogramming is required. However, there is not one system that has proven to prevent the unnecessary problems that single people suffer from as much as this one. If you are already married, shomer nagiah also includes you. This is a surefire way to prevent any possible incidences of cheating, and it also helps keep your desire for your spouse at its maximum.  Let’s examine the workplace, where most illicit relationships happen: a simple handshake can ignite some imaginary spark in your heart. Then it leads to a casual hug and kiss on the cheek. Before you know it, you’re daydreaming of the secretary and one thing leads to another…. Imagine, if your spouse was the only adult of the opposite sex you have physical interaction with on a daily basis, not only would there be no temptation, but by the end of the day you will be craving that hug or kiss!  To me, shomer nagiah is another way I can use the infinite wisdom of the Torah to improve my life.  I guess you can say one of the secrets to a happy relationship is, “Hands off!”

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  The Clincher
Chaim6/20/2016 2:12:55 PM
  part two, please!
YEHUDIT3/14/2011 9:53:21 PM

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