A Touchy Subject

Some Jewish College Students Avoid Contact With Opposite Sex

School Rule: Rivka Holzer, a sophomore at Barnard College, practices shomer negiah.
Shulamit Seidler-Feller
School Rule: Rivka Holzer, a sophomore at Barnard College, practices shomer negiah.

By Emily Shire

Published November 16, 2012, issue of November 23, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 4 of 4)

By the second semester of her senior year, she had started openly hugging some of her male friends and not caring whether photos of her with arms around guys appeared on Facebook. “The fear element I had when I was younger is not in me so much anymore — the fear of ramifications or consequences,” she said.

Conversely, some students decide to take on shomer negiah to help them navigate the four years of college. Rebecca Khalandovsky, 22, a senior at Princeton University, was not observant when she began school, but over time, she found shomer negiah to be the best tool for handling her evolving relationships with men in college. She chose to take on the rule after her freshman year, when she noticed that with some male friends a single embrace “would lead me to think, ‘what does he think? Should I ask him out? What should I do?’” This physical contact resulted in “a lot of wasted emotional energy and time and thought. It wasn’t an efficient system of evaluating of who I should be in a relationship with.”

More than a matter of temptation, being shomer negiah is often a matter of logistics. Aside from the fact that the American college campus often seems like a Sodom and Gomorrah built on red Solo cups and Trojan wrappers, even friendly high-fives and handshakes can pose a challenge to those who practice shomer negiah.

Rabinowitz and his friends came up with the “shomer hug.” When people greet each other on the Sabbath at the Hillel house, Rabinowitz and his friends will stick out their arms and do an air hug as a symbol that they “don’t just accommodate [shomer negiah], but make it into a thing.”

And hugs with friends are harder to resist than sexual relations. Sherman recalled that when a good female friend who had recently graduated came back to visit, it was difficult not to hug her. “It was not sexualized, but it was about the emotions for the person,” he said. “You can’t communicate with touch — only words — and words have to suffice. There are emotional wants.”

However, after nearly two years of practicing shomer negiah, Khalandovsky firmly believes that emotional connections can be established even without physical contact. “One can comfort and empathize with another person through speech,” she said. “It requires more effort and is harder without touch, but both people clearly see what the input and output is.”

Emily Shire is the chief researcher at The Week magazine and is a freelance writer. Find her work at emilyshire.wordpress.com.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.